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Chavez to aid Colombia on hostages

  • Story Highlights
  • Uribe and Chavez meet in Hato Grande, Colombia, to discuss plans for the talks
  • Uribe: Chavez's help is welcome if it can lead to the release of hostages
  • Among the hostages: Politician Ingrid Betancourt
  • FARC is to return the bodies of 11 Colombian congressmen on Saturday
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(CNN) -- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez will negotiate on behalf of the Colombian government with leftist rebels holding dozens of hostages, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe announced Friday.

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Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, left, meets with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe on Friday in Bogota.

"Never before have we gotten a green light to act directly," Chavez said. "I thank the president and FARC, which have said they are disposed to meet in Venezuela with me."

He added, "I hope it ends positively."

A representative of Colombia's largest Marxist rebel group -- the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known by the Spanish acronym FARC -- would travel to Caracas, Venezuela, to meet with Chavez, the presidents said.

Uribe and Chavez met in Hato Grande, Colombia, to discuss plans for the negotiations, which could lead to an exchange of rebel prisoners held by the government for hostages held by FARC.

The hard-line Uribe said Chavez's help was welcome if it could lead to a release of the hostages, who include French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt and three American contractors.

Betancourt, a Colombian senator, was kidnapped in 2002, as she was running for president in the election that eventually saw Uribe take office.

The leftist Venezuelan leader said he received a letter from FARC asking for his involvement. He said he would also talk with the smaller National Liberation Army (ELN), which, like FARC, has regularly used kidnappings to seek concessions from the government.

The two groups have been battling the Colombian government for more than four decades. Tens of thousands of people have died in the conflict.

FARC seeks to form a Marxist state. The United States, the European Union and Colombia classify FARC as a terrorist group.

On Saturday, FARC, with the help of the Red Cross, is to return the bodies of 11 Colombian congressmen FARC said were killed in crossfire between its fighters and government forces in June. The Colombian government denied involvement and accused FARC of executing the deputies.

In June, Colombia released some FARC prisoners in hopes of getting FARC leaders to release some of their high-profile captives. But the rebels refused to release any hostages until government troops withdraw from parts of the country's south, a demand Uribe rejected.

His predecessor, Andres Pastrana, had ceded a section of central Colombia to the rebels in an unsuccessful bid to reach a peace agreement. After taking office, Uribe quickly moved to retake that territory. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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