Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Chavez: Little chance FARC will free high-profile hostage

(CNN) --There is little chance Colombia rebels will free one-time Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt after that country's March 1 attack on a rebel camp inside Ecuador, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Tuesday.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez discussed FARC hostages in Caracas on Tuesday.

The 44-year-old, who holds dual French citizenship, has been held by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia for more than six years.

In January, FARC rebels in southern Colombia handed over two hostages to representatives of the Red Cross and Venezuela.

And in February, FARC released four others.

Those released prisoners who had seen Betancourt said she was in poor health.

Last year, Chavez helped mediate a proposed exchange of jailed guerrillas for FARC hostages.

But Colombian President Alvaro Uribe ended the talks in November after accusing Chavez of exceeding his authority.

"Before the attack on Ecuador, we were giving a high probability of the liberation of Ingrid," Chavez said during a news conference at his palace in Caracas. "After that, the probability fell," Chavez told reporters.

Also on Tuesday, the Ecuadoran government asked the Organization of American States to help smooth over relations with Colombia over the rebel camp attack. The request was made after Colombia's minister of defense, Juan Manuel Santos, declared that his country had committed "a legitimate act of war" inside Ecuador.

The attack killed about two dozen people, including Raul Reyes, the second-in-command of FARC, as well as an Ecuadoran and several Mexicans. Colombia said it found laptop computers belonging to FARC that indicated Venezuela was funding the guerrillas.

Venezuela denied the charge, and Ecuador and Venezuela promptly severed diplomatic relations with Colombia. Ecuador called the move an attack on its territorial sovereignty.

Ecuadoran OAS representative Maria Isabel Salvador called Santos' remarks "almost a declaration of war that, obviously, has to be rejected."

On Wednesday, relatives of the dead Ecuadoran, 38-year-old Franklin Aisalia, will travel to Bogota, Colombia, to repatriate his body.

Colombia has accused him of collaborating with the FARC, a claim that his father on Monday rejected.

Chavez also denounced the accusation, noting that Colombia originally identified the dead man as a Colombian.

"Now [Colombia] says, yes, it's an Ecuadoran, but a terrorist," Chavez said Tuesday. "And if the father comes to reclaim his son, he's a terrorist, too."

In comments directed at Santos, Chavez said, "Tell the truth instead of talking garbage about this supposed computer from Raul Reyes."

An end to the conflict between Ecuador and Colombia would be a good first step in securing Betancourt's freedom, Chavez said.

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