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Zapatero jumps on board FARC hostage release negotiations

24 January 2008

MADRID – Spain will join France and Switzerland in attempting to negotiate the release of hostages held by Colombia’s FARC rebels, Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero announced Wednesday after meeting with Colombian President Álvaro Uribe in Madrid.

The move comes after the release on 10 January of two hostages following mediation efforts led by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, which, though successful, drew criticism from Colombia after Chávez called for the FARC to cease being considered a terrorist group by the European Union and the United States. Zapatero argued yesterday that the guerillas’ only course of action is to give up its hostages and enter into peace talks. He also reiterated demands for an international medical team to be allowed to check the health of the estimated 700 to 1,000 people held by the group deep in the Colombian jungle.

"We are going to persevere in order to facilitate this humanitarian task," Zapatero said.

He noted that unlike the mediation efforts of Chávez – which led to the release of Clara Rojas, a Colombian former vice presidential candidate, and Consuelo González – the Spanish and European mediators will work closely with Uribe’s government. "We cannot do anything without President Uribe," the prime minister noted.

Uribe refused to comment on his disagreements with Chávez over the handling of the hostage release and the left-wing Venezuelan leaders’ efforts to reduce international pressure on the Marxist guerrillas.

During a visit to Brussels on Tuesday, Uribe received assurances from the European Union that the FARC will continue to be treated as terrorist organisation.

"Uribe has our full support in the battle he is waging against terrorism. The terrorists must free the hostages with no conditions," EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said after meeting with the Colombian president.


Subject: Spanish news