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Chavez Accuses Colombia Of Sabotage In Talks

By Brian Wagner

Chavez Accuses Colombia of Sabotage in Rebel Talks

Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez has accused Colombia again of sabotaging a humanitarian deal that he was trying to negotiate with Colombian rebels. Mr. Chavez claimed his efforts were advancing until Colombia's president ordered him to stop.

President Chavez said he believed Colombian rebel leader Manuel Marulanda was prepared to release some of the hostages his group is holding, before Colombia's government asked him to stop working with the rebel.

In August, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe asked Mr. Chavez to negotiate with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, to free hostages in exchange for the release of jailed rebels. But Mr. Uribe ended the efforts last week, saying the Venezuelan leader had improper contacts with Colombia's army chief.

Speaking to foreign journalists in Caracas on Saturday, Mr. Chavez claimed the communication was no more than a brief telephone call. And he questioned the commitment of Colombia's government to securing a deal to end decades of violence with leftist rebels.

Mr. Chavez said the Colombian government does not want a humanitarian deal, because as soon as there is the possibility to achieve one, the government resorts to sabotage.

The Venezuelan leader also alleged that U.S. officials took part in the decision to end his negotiation efforts, and alleged that CIA operatives in Colombia were prepared to kill him if he traveled to meet rebel leaders.

During a raid in Bogota this week, Colombian authorities seized videos and photographs of some of the hostages, including three American contractors and a former Colombian presidential candidate. Officials also found letters from some of the hostages, who have been held for more than four years in jungle camps.

President Chavez said the images were recorded in October as part of his mediation efforts and were being sent to him in Venezuela when they were seized. He criticized Colombian authorities for ordering the raid, in which three people were arrested.

In Colombia, Peace Commissioner Luis Carlos Restrepo defended the decision to end Mr. Chavez's involvement, saying his actions had been erratic and unproductive.

The discovery of the FARC documents has raised fresh hope among relatives of some of the hostages that their loved ones will be released. Some family members have asked President Uribe to allow Mr. Chavez to resume his mission, but Colombian officials have rejected that possibility.


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