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Colombian President Authorizes Direct Hostage Negotiations with Rebels


Colombian President Alvaro Uribe says his government is ready for direct contact with the country's largest rebel group, without intermediaries.

Mr. Uribe also said in a statement Friday that family members of hostages long held by the rebels could seek direct contact with the group.

The president specifically mentioned Lucy de Gechen, the wife of a kidnapped senator, to reach out directly to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia in an effort to open negotiations for the release of hostages.

As recently as Thursday, Mr. Uribe ruled out negotiating a swap of some 60 hostages for about 500 imprisoned FARC rebels. The president said he preferred a military rescue operation.

But families of the hostages say they fear their loved ones would be killed in such an operation.

Among the hostages held by FARC is former presidential candidate and French-Colombian citizen Ingrid Betancourt. Friday marked the fifth anniversary of her abduction.

The rebels have been fighting to overthrow the government in the South American country for more than four decades.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.