The Miami Herald
September 19, 2007
Colombia's largest rebel group refuses to budge on its demand for a New York City-size demilitarized zone as a precondition for talks on exchanging some of its hostages for guerrilla prisoners, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez said.
The Colombian government has repeatedly rejected demands by the rebels for troops to clear a 310-square-mile area in southwestern Colombia for talks aimed at securing the release of 45 high-profile hostages, including three Americans.
During a brief televised appearance on Tuesday with peace mediator and Colombian Sen. Piedad Córdoba, Chávez read segments of a letter from Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, commander Manuel Marulanda and insisted that a meeting with the octogenarian rebel is vital for talks to move forward.
Reading the letter from Marulanda, Chávez said: ``The clearing out of troops from the municipalities of Florida and Pradera is indispensable so that officials from the government and FARC can agree on terms and procedures that lead to the liberation of the hostages.''
Chávez, who is seeking to broker a prisoner swap, has asked Colombian President Alvaro Uribe permission to travel into FARC-dominated territory to meet Marulanda. But Colombia's U.S.-allied government has dismissed such a meeting as inappropriate.
Marulanda has said he is not able to travel to Venezuela at the moment.
The rebels hold several hundred hostages. Among the most prominent are three U.S. defense contractors and former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, a French-Colombian citizen.
Córdoba, who was tapped by Uribe to mediate a prisoner swap, said she would travel to Washington in the coming weeks to meet with Ricardo Palmera and Anayibe Rojas Valderama, two senior FARC members who are currently in U.S. custody after being extradited by Colombia.
The FARC has long insisted the two guerrillas, who have been convicted by U.S. courts on drug trafficking and terrorism charges, be part of any swap.