Sarkozy calls for restraint in South American crisis

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Nicolas Sarkozy called for restraint from "all concerned parties" during a phone call with his Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chavez.

   PARIS, March 6, 2008 - French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Wednesday
called for restraint from "all concerned parties" in the crisis in South
America during a phone call with his Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chavez, his
office said.
   Sarkozy "reiterated his call to all the countries in the region and to all
concerned parties to show restraint and responsibility so that the path of
dialogue and cooperation is quickly regained," a statement said.
   Chavez said earlier he had assured Sarkozy that he is committed to peace
during the talk between the two leaders about the crisis sparked by Colombia's
attack on rebels in Ecuador.
   "I was telling him that were are a peaceful people and nation, we want
peace, and nothing nor anyone will push us off the path of true peace," Chavez
said at a public event, after he sent troops to the Colombian border.
   Their conversation came as the crisis gripping South America took a step
closer to open conflict, with Venezuela saying 10 battalions were now on the
Colombian border, and Ecuador warning "ultimate consequences" could ensue.
   The trigger of the crisis was an air and land raid by Colombia inside
Ecuador on Saturday to kill Raul Reyes, the number two leader of the
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the Marxist guerrilla group it
has been fighting for four decades.
   Ecuador and Venezuela responded by ordering troops to their borders with
Colombia and cutting off diplomatic ties.
   Sarkozy has been seeking the release of French-Colombian hostage Ingrid
Betancourt and has said he is ready to enter a restive South American zone to
help end the six-year-old kidnap ordeal.
   FARC guerillas captured Betancourt in February 2002 while she was
campaigning for the Colombian presidency.
   She is among some 40 high-profile hostages, including three American
defence contractors, whom FARC wants to exchange for 500 rebels being held in
Colombian prisons.
   "The two presidents expressed the wish that recent developments not stop
the continuation of the process to free hostages who remain in the hands of
the FARC," the statement from Sarkozy spokesman David Martinon said.
   Venezuela's Defence Minister Gustavo Rangel earlier said Caracas'
deployment of 10 battalions of troops toward the Colombian border was aimed at
countering a US expansionist drive.
   "It is not against the people of Colombia, but rather the expansionist
designs of the empire," Rangel said, referring to the United States.


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