Colombia has said it is cancelling the role of Hugo Chavez, Venezuela's president, in attempting to negotiate the release 45 hostages held by rebel fighters.
The decision came after Chavez spoke to Colombia's army chief in defiance of an order not to talk directly to military leaders, Cesar Mauricio Velasquez, presidential spokesman, said.
Chavez had begun mediating an exchange in August with the permission of Alvaro Uribe, Colombian president.
Hopes were high that he would reach a deal in which the kidnap victims, including Ingrid Betancourt, a French-Colombian politician, would be exchanged for fighters held in government jails.
Chavez had spoken with Mario Montoya, Colombia's armed services commander on Wednesday, and requested information about the hostages, according to a government statement.
This violated an agreement between Uribe and Chavez that only the two leaders would hold discussions about hostages held by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or Farc, the statement said.
|"This is a complete setback for any possible hostage exchange. |
But Uribe had no choice"
Pablo Casas, security analyst
"This is a complete setback for any possible hostage exchange. But Uribe had no choice," Pablo Casas, an analyst at Security and Democracy, a Bogota think tank, said.
"You cannot accept the president of another country requesting information directly from your top military commander," he said.
"That is totally against protocol."
However, France has urged Colombia to reverse its decision.
"We continue to think that president Chavez is the best chance of securing the release of Ingrid Betancourt and all the other hostages currently held by the Farc in Colombia," David Martinon, a spokesman for the French president, said.
On Tuesday, Chavez held talks with his French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy on his efforts to secure the release of Ingrid Betancourt, a French-Colombian politician who has been held since 2002.
The decision to end Chavez's mediation is likely to prove a severe setback for any talks between the rebels and Colombia's president, who share a strong mutual dislike.
Uribe's father was killed by Farc rebels nearly two decades ago. The conservative president, in turn, has attempted to defeat the guerrilla army with a US-backed military buildup.
The fighters are holding dozens of high-profile hostages including police officers, former members of congress and provincial governors.
Betancourt was taken during her 2002 presidential campaign.
Three US military contractors, Thomas Howes, Keith Stansell and Marc Gonsalves were also captured after their plane crashed during a 2003 anti-drug mission.