Chavez begins France visit

20th November 2007, Comments 0 comments

20 November 2007, PARIS - Hugo Chavez meets France's President Nicolas Sarkzoy on Tuesday amid renewed efforts by the Venezuelan leader to broker the release of French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt and others being held by a Colombian rebel group.

20 November 2007

PARIS - Hugo Chavez meets France's President Nicolas Sarkzoy on Tuesday amid renewed efforts by the Venezuelan leader to broker the release of French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt and others being held by a Colombian rebel group.

After arriving in Paris late on Monday, the Venezuelan president announced he had permission from his Colombian counterpart to meet with chief of the Marxist rebel FARC group which is holding Betancourt and around 45 other hostages, including three Americans.

"Under certain conditions which I cannot reveal because they part of a negotiating process, (Colombian President Alvaro) Uribe told me: 'You can go,' and I have the intention of going," Chavez told the Colombian RCN radio station.

The Venezuelan leader gave no other details about the location of the meeting or the agreement he struck with Uribe.

But the Colombian government, which asked Chavez to mediate earlier this year, said in a statement Monday that it had set a December deadline for the Venezuelan president to achieve a breakthrough in the talks.

"President Uribe told President Chavez that this mediation process needs to have a time limit, which Chavez agreed to," according to a statement read to members of the media by Luis Carlos Restrepo, the government's peace talks commissioner.

"The government thinks that the deadline ought to be in December," Restrepo said.

Uribe has previously rejected demands by the revolutionary group for its leader, Manuel Marulanda, to meet on Colombian soil with Chavez.

Sarkozy has made the release of Betancourt, a senator kidnapped while campaigning for president in February 2002 by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a priority since his election as president in May.

The visit by Chavez is his first to Paris since Sarkozy took office, and he will meeting with his French counterpart over lunch before holding a news conference.

Chavez has said he hopes to be able to have proof that Betancourt is still alive. The last video of her dates from mid-2003.

But on Sunday he said that he still does not have hard evidence such as a new video, although he is "certain" that Betancourt, 45, is still alive.

FARC has pledged to provide proof that she is still alive, and its handing over of some evidence is being viewed as an important gesture that it is serious about reaching a deal with Colombian authorities.

The rebels want at least 500 prisoners released in exchange for the hostages' liberation.

"The evidence [of Betancourt being alive] will come, the question to answer is whether the guerrillas want to make gift or not for Hugo Chavez" for this trip to Paris, a diplomat told AFP on condition of anonymity.

While many of the details of Chavez's visit have not been many public, in addition to his meeting with Sarkozy the Venezuelan president is to meet with French businessmen before leaving Tuesday evening for Portugal.

AFP

Subject: French news

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