Representatives Colombian Guerrilla Arrive in Venezuela for Humanitarian Accords

Representatives from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have arrived in Venezuela to meet with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, according to an announcement made by Chavez yesterday.
FARC leader Raul Reyes meeting with Colombian Senator Piedad Cordoba in the Colombian jungle (AFP)

Mérida, November 5, 2007 ( Representatives
from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have arrived in Venezuela
to meet with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, according to an announcement
made by Chavez yesterday. The long-awaited meeting between the Venezuelan
president and the FARC guerrilla group is a key step in Chavez' efforts to
mediate in the Colombian conflict and obtain a humanitarian exchange of

The announcement came on Sunday during a political rally in Caracas in support of the
proposed constitutional reform. President Chavez spoke to a massive crowd of
supporters, and gave an update on the situation with the mediation efforts.

"Several representatives of the FARC just arrived. They
have finally arrived to Venezuela
to search for a solution to the humanitarian agreement, which is our
task," he said. "I will meet with them either tonight or tomorrow or
the day after tomorrow."

Chavez indicated that the FARC representatives had managed
to enter Venezuela
without any problems. A previous attempt to hold a meeting between the FARC and
Chavez was postponed in early October due to a lack of security for the FARC
representatives to leave Colombia.

Chavez later called on the Colombian government of Alvaro
Uribe to assist in securing that the representatives could travel outside of
FARC territory.

Chavez mentioned that a representative from the French
government of Nicolas Sarkozy is also in the country to take part in the

The French government has praised Chavez' efforts to mediate
in the conflict, and has been involved in working towards an agreement because one
of the hostages being held by the FARC, Ingrid Betancourt, is a French citizen.

In Paris,
government representatives as well as family members of Betancourt expressed
their hope in the current efforts of the Venezuelan president to obtain the
release of the hostages. Family members said they consider the meeting between
Chavez and the FARC to be the biggest advance towards solving the crisis in

"It is the most positive thing that has happened so far
for the agreement," said Betancourt's mother Yolanda Pulecio. Family
members also called on Colombian President Alvaro Uribe to "loosen"
his position on the FARC to avoid frustrating Chavez' efforts.

French Minister of Foreign Relations Bernard Kouchner also
expressed hope, and stated that there is "indirect proof" that Ingrid
is still alive. "There exists hope. We have to continue. In any case we
will dedicate ourselves intensely," he said.

Today, during a phone call to a nightly television talk show
on the state TV channel, Chavez said that he had received a message from the
FARC leader Marulanda that he would be willing to provide proof of life of
Betancourt and other hostages the FARC holds. This, according to Chavez, is a
first as the FARC has in the past always refused to provide such proof.

In preparation for this week's meeting, Chavez met with the
so-called foreign minister of the Colombian guerrilla group, Rodrigo Granda.
Granda was released from jail last June by Colombian President Alvaro Uribe as
a part of the efforts to obtain the humanitarian exchange.

His release was requested by French President Nicolas
Sarkozy so that Granda could travel to Havana
and Caracas and
facilitate the negotiations with the FARC. The Colombian government announced
last week that Granda had arrived in Venezuela to build a "bridge
of communication" between Chavez and the Colombian guerrilla group.

"We hope that this can further increase those channels
of communication and that the FARC finally makes the decision, which is very
important, that the person that is going to speak with President Chavez is very
high level and capable of making decisions," said a Colombian government

The immediate agenda of the negotiations is to obtain the
release of 45 hostages in the hands of the FARC, in exchange for the release of
some 500 imprisoned guerrilla rebels. The FARC, however, has also demanded the
demilitarization of certain regions of the country as a part of the agreement.

Also being held are three U.S. citizens, contractors of the
US State Department, as well as dozens of other politicians, police and
military officials.

Chavez agreed to work on achieving an agreement a
couple months ago at the request of the Colombian Senator Piedad Cordoba. The
Venezuelan president has also expressed a desire to go further than a
humanitarian exchange, and work towards negotiating a solution to the
decades-long conflict.