Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has hailed the Colombian rescue operation that freed former politician Ingrid Betancourt and 14 others, including three American defense contractors.

Speaking the day after the successful mission, President Chavez Thursday said he was overjoyed at the liberation of the 15 hostages.

Mr. Chavez also said he called Colombian President Alvaro Uribe to congratulate him and that Venezuela will remain available to help achieve the release of all hostages from leftist rebel custody.

Earlier this year, the Venezuelan leader helped win the release of six other hostages who had been held by the rebel Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC.

But, the government in Bogota has been angered by Mr. Chavez's strong verbal support of the rebel group, which Colombia, the European Union and United States have designated a terrorist organization. He is alleged to be a financial and material backer of the insurgent movement. Mr. Chavez has denied Colombian accusations he has aided the FARC directly.

Last month, however, the Venezuelan president called on the FARC rebels to put down their weapons and release hostages unconditionally. Mr. Chavez said he believed the time has come for the FARC to release all its hostages without conditions as a humanitarian gesture.

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