Colombia offers Farc direct talks

Government signals it is ready to swap prisoners for hostages held by rebels.

    Restrepo said "it is time for this drama to end" [EPA]

    Restrepo said the government had prepared a decree to enact legal procedures to free jailed rebels once an agreement was reached, but that the rebels had yet to provide a list of names they wanted included in any deal.

     

    Attempts to negotiate a deal to swap the hostages for jailed rebels have been stymied by Farc demands that Uribe demilitarise an area the size of New York City for the talks, a demand Uribe has so far rejected.

     

    Bogota is under pressure to find a way to secure the release of 47 Farc captives, including a French-Colombian citizen and three American contractors.

     

    Last week, the government released excerpts from rebel videos of the hostages, sparking a public outcry over their plight.

     

    One clip showed Ingrid Betancourt, the French-Colombian politician who was taken in 2002, looking gaunt and despondent at a rebel hideout.

     

    Restrepo made the offer of talks on Tuesday before heading for a meeting with Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, to invite a French delegate to join the negotiations.

     

    French pressure 

     

    Sarkozy has been urging Uribe to engage in hostage negotiations and has expressed concern over Betancourt's health.

     

    A source close to Sarkozy, currently visiting Algeria, said the president "does not want to rush through every door that opens... We must find the right approaches".

     

    Uribe recently removed Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan president, as a mediator in talks with Farc.

     

    A diplomatic spat erupted after Uribe accused Chavez of violating agreed protocol and Chavez froze relations with Colombia.

     

    But Betancourt's husband and mother have pushed for Chavez to be reinstated as mediator and Chavez appears keen to remain involved, meeting Betancourt's relatives in Caracas this week.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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