Chavez defends Colombia rebels

Bogota angered after Veneuzela's president says Farc is not a terrorist group.

    Hugo Chavez says Colombia's leftists rebels
    need to be recognised as real armies [AFP] 

    "I ask you [Colombian President Alvaro Uribe] that we start recognising the Farc and the ELN as insurgent forces in Colombia and not terrorist groups, and I ask the same of the governments of this continent and the world," he said.
    'Terrorist' organisations

    The Farc is the oldest and largest guerrilla army in Latin America and has been fighting the government for several decades.
    "The Farc uses violence against democratic government and civil populations"

    Jose Obdulio Gaviria, an adviser to Colombia's president

    The United States and many other Colombian allies label Farc and the ELN, Colombia's second largest rebel group, as terrorists and have imposed sanctions on the groups.

    The rebels say they are fighting for greater equality in the Andean country.

    Jose Obdulio Gaviria, an adviser to Alvaro Uribe, the Colombian president, reacted angrily to Chavez's defence of the two groups.
    "The Farc uses violence against democratic government and civil populations. In the canon of international law, that makes them a terrorist group," he said.
    Carlos Holguin, Colombia's interior minister said Uribe's administration "cannot accept a request of this sort".
    Hostages released

    On Thursday, Farc released Consuelo Gonzalez and Clara Rojas, two politicians held captive for six years. 

    Al Jazeera Mariana Sanchez in Caracas said that that it seemed that Chavez made the remarks to repay Farc for releasing the hostages.

    "Although Farc said at all times that they were going to release the hostages unilaterally, for nothing in return, it seems like this is the time when President Chavez is giving them what they want ... international recognition," she said.
    Chavez says he hopes that they could be the first of many more hostages to be released.
    He said that the release of Ingrid Betancourt, the former Colombian presidential candidate, and several others still held by the Farc, largely depends on Uribe.
    Uribe has refused to let Chavez meet Farc leaders on Colombian soil and in November he called off formal mediation efforts by the Venezuelan president after he contacted the head of Colombia's army.

    'Horrible situations'

    One of the freed hostages said on Friday that many of the captives held by Farc are kept chained in jungle camps surrounded by barbed wire and are terrified by army artillery and machine gun fire.

    Gonzalez said hostages lived under constant
    fear of being killed by military fire [AFP]

    "[Abducted] soldiers and police live chained all day by the neck," Gonzalez told Colombia's Caracol Radio.

    "Whatever they have to do, wherever they have to go, to bathe, to wash their clothes, they carry their chains."
    "We lived in horrible situations of risk, of high risk," she said. "We practically felt the bombs going off only a few metres from where we were. Army helicopters firing machine guns also came very close. Living in war is a horror."

    The two women trekked for 20 days to reach the forest clearing where they were picked up by Venezuelan helicopters on Thursday. 

    Gonzalez and Rojas brought photographs and letters from 16 hostages still in the camps and said it was heartrending to leave their former companions behind.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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