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Chavez Visits Sarkozy to Discuss Colombian Hostages

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez says Colombian leftist rebels have promised to provide proof by the end of the year that high-profile hostages in their custody, such as politician Ingrid Betancourt, are alive.

President Chavez made the comment Tuesday in Paris, where he and his French counterpart, Nicolas Sarkozy discussed Betancourt. Mr. Chavez admitted earlier this week he has no material proof that Betancourt, a senator, is alive, but was assured so by a leader of the FARC, the rebel group that kidnapped her in February 2002.

President Sarkozy has made freeing the French-Colombian Betancourt one of his foreign policy priorities and President Chavez hopes to negotiate a prisoner exchange with the rebels.

Betancourt was running for the Colombian presidency when she and her campaign manager, Clara Rojas, were abducted and taken into the jungle. Betancourt has not been heard from since 2003. There is no word on the fate of Rojas.

The FARC is demanding the release of rebels held in government prisons in return for freeing 45 hostages, including Betancourt and three Americans.

On Monday, the Colombian government said it was giving Mr. Chavez until the end of the year to broker a prisoner swap.

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