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Chavez Urges Colombian Rebels to Release Hostages

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is urging Colombia's rebels to release all their hostages as a way to start peace negotiations with the country's new president, Juan Manuel Santos.

During his weekly radio and television address Sunday, Mr. Chavez said the Colombian guerrilla movement has no future through armed struggle. He urged the country's rebels to release the dozens of hostages held in camps deep within Colombia's jungles as an overture to Mr. Santos, who was sworn in on Saturday.

Mr. Santos said he is open to talks with the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC rebels, but only if they first give up their weapons and stop kidnapping, blackmail, drug trafficking and intimidation.

Venezuela broke ties with Colombia last month amid accusations from Bogota that Venezuela is sheltering Colombian rebels.

During his inaugural address on Saturday, Mr. Santos said he would prefer frank talks with Venezuela as soon as possible.

Venezuelan President Chavez was invited to the inauguration, but did not attend. After Mr. Santos delivered his inauguration speech, Mr. Chavez responded that he is ready to turn the page and look to the future with hope.

Colombia has been mired in a 46-year civil war involving two leftist rebel groups and rightist paramilitaries. Colombia is the closest U.S. ally in Latin America and has received about $6 billion in mostly military assistance from Washington.

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