May 02, 2008
SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is the best hope for successfully negotiating the release of French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt and other hostages held by leftist Colombian guerrillas, her husband said on Friday.
France is spearheading a campaign to restart talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, the Marxist rebel group holding hundreds of captives, including Betancourt, in secret camps deep in the jungle.
Chavez, a self-proclaimed socialist revolutionary who has expressed sympathies for the FARC, helped negotiate the release of six hostages this year. But Colombian President Alvaro Uribe rejects a formal role in release talks for Chavez, who irked his Colombian counterpart by urging more recognition for the rebels.
"The Colombian government, I think out of pride, doesn't want Chavez to participate," Juan Carlos Lecompte, Betancourt's husband, told Reuters on the sidelines of an environmental conference in Sao Paulo.
"But for us, the relatives of the captives, he is the main hope that we have. We've begged him to keep working for their release and that is what he is doing."
Betancourt, a former Colombian presidential candidate who also holds French citizenship, was abducted by FARC rebels six years ago and has become the public face of Colombia's hostage crisis.
Chavez and Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa, who has also clashed with Uribe, have said they were close to winning the release of Betancourt and 11 others. But those efforts were derailed, they said, when the Colombian military bombed a FARC camp in Ecuador on March 1, killing top rebel commander Raul Reyes and setting off a week-long regional crisis.
"If they hadn't killed Reyes, maybe Ingrid would be here with us today," Lecompte said.
This week, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner visited Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela in a bid to restart talks with the FARC and ease tensions between the three Andean nations.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy wrote a letter to Chavez on April 27 asking him to find a way to reopen talks.
"Use your influence, which is large, to find the way for a new initiative, from which we can make proposals to the international community," Sarkozy said in an extract of the letter released by Venezuela on Thursday.
Colombia's decades-long conflict has let up under the conservative Uribe, a U.S. ally who has sent troops to retake areas under the control of armed rebels. The FARC is still fighting in remote areas, aided by funds from cocaine trafficking and extortion.
Though Uribe's hardline stance with the FARC has made him popular with most Colombians, former hostages and relatives of those still held oppose any rescue attempt by the military.
"I know that in a rescue attempt, no one gets out alive," Luis Eladio Perez, one of the six hostages who was released this year, said at the same event in Sao Paulo.