Venezuelan Efforts Praised, Meeting Postponed in Colombian Hostage Negotiation

UN High Commissioner for Refugee congratulated the government of Venezuela in relation to the efforts of President Chavez to achieve a humanitarian exchange of 45 hostages held by Colombian guerrillas for guerrilla insurgents held in Colombia jails. A crucial meeting between Chavez and the rebels for next week has been postponed, though.
Venezuelan President Chavez met with a representative of France's President Nicolas Sarkozy on Thursday, to discuss Chavez's efforts to obtain the release of the French citizen Ingrid Betancourt, along with other hostages held by the Colombian guerrilla g

Caracas, October 4, 2007 ( UN High
Commissioner Antonio Guterres, congratulated the government of the Bolivarian
Republic of Venezuela this Wednesday, in relation to the efforts of President
Hugo Chavez to achieve a humanitarian exchange of 45 hostages held by the FARC
(Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), for guerrilla insurgents held in
Colombia jails, with a view to achieving peace in Colombia.

Guterres made the comments during the 58th
session of the Executive Committee of the Office of the United Nations High
Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).

During its presentation at the UNHCR meeting, the Venezuelan
delegation emphasized that the decades long internal conflict in Colombia generates the highest number of
refugees in Latin America. It is estimated
that some two million Colombians immigrants live in Venezuela, many of them fleeing the
conflict in their home country.

"Our most sincere thanks to all the voices of the world, of
France, Switzerland, Spain, Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador and many other countries,
as well as diverse international organizations, that have raised their voice to
say YES to peace in Colombia, YES to the efforts led by President Chavez and
Colombian Senator Piedad Córdoba," the statement from the Venezuelan delegation

Chavez also confirmed, in an interview published yesterday
in the French magazine Paris Match,
that he had received assurances from the FARC that French Colombian citizen
Ingrid Betancourt is alive and well. "There is no reason to think she is dead.
All the information that we have indicates that she is alive," he said

Chavez added that a few weeks ago he had sent a message
questioning the FARC in this respect, through Colombian Senator Piedad Córdoba,
who is acting as a mediator on behalf of the Colombian government.

According to Iván Márquez, a member of the general command
of the FARC, the three US
citizens Keith Stansell, Thomas Howes and Marc Gonsalves, have received
"respectful and dignified treament."

In a declaration made on September 28 and published on the
FARC's website on Tuesday, Márquez said that this treatment contrasted with
that received by the guerrillas Ricardo Palmera, alias 'Simón Trinidad', and
Anayibe Rojas, alias 'Sonia', who are being held in prison in the US.

The jury is still out on the case of Palmera, 57, who was extradited
to the US by the Uribe
government and is accused of "conspiracy to traffic drugs" into the US. The jury
indicated on Tuesday that it could not reach a unanimous agreement over the
validity of the charges against Palmero and is continuing deliberations.

However, Colombian President El Alvaro Uribe, affirmed again
this Wednesday that he won't accept the inclusion of 'Sonia' y 'Simón Trinidad'
in the humanitarian exchange.

"The government of Colombia
says ‘forcefully no' to the rebel chiefs Simón Trinidad and 'Sonia' being
returned from the United States
to Colombia".

"If we accept the pressure that 'Sonia' and 'Simón Trinidad'
are returned from the United
States to participate in a humanitarian
exchange with the FARC, that would be disastrous, a negative precedent" he

Córdoba, who is visiting the US
to get support for the process of negotiating a humanitarian exchange, said
that she has formed a team of lawyers in Washington
to look at options in the case of Sonia and Simón Trinidad.

She is also hoping to meet next week with US secretary of
State, Condoleezza Rice, and if this happens, it will be the first time a
member of the Bush government participates in the process. The position of Bush
is not to negotiate with "terrorists."

Despite Uribe's call for a bipartisan Congressional
delegation from the US to
participate in talks between Colombian officials, Chavez and the FARC, Córdoba
said that until now, no Republican legislator has accepted to be part of the
group that will travel to Caracas.

Today Córdoba is meeting with Sonia, who is serving a
17-year sentence in Fort Worth prison, found
guilty by a US
court of "trafficking drugs."

Meanwhile, Chavez says that the first meeting with the FARC,
due to take place in Caracas on October 8, may
have to be postponed, "if we consider the declarations, not those of president
Uribe, other declarations of other people that have said that the Colombian
Guerillas will have to come to Caracas
at their own risk"

However, he affirmed, "the meeting with the representative
of [FARC leader] Marulanda is planned and we are planning the technical
details, logistics. It's going to be very important to continue constructing an
option towards the humanitarian exchange and I hope forward towards a peace

Chavez said he remains optimistic about the
possibilities of the success of his mediation, despite the failure of previous
attempts to achieve the liberation of the hostages through a humanitarian