Time for FARC to free all its hostages: Chavez

June 9th, 2008 - 12:39 pm ICT by IANS  

Caracas, June 9 (IANS) Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has said leftist insurgent group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC) should release its hostages and offered his mediation to facilitate the transfer. “The time has come for the FARC to release all the hostages it is holding,” Chavez said during his weekly radio talk and television show “Alo, Presidente”.

Describing the FARC as an excuse for what he called US efforts to establish its sphere of influence in the region, Chavez said Washington is “planning” to establish more military bases in Colombia, which would be “a threat to Venezuela,” Spain’s EFE news agency reported Monday.

A unilateral release of hostages by the group under the new leadership of Alfonso Cano, who succeeded founder Manuel Marulanda, would be to the advantage of the insurgents, the president said.

“It (releasing the hostages) would be a great gesture, in exchange for nothing. That’s what I’m suggesting now that there’s a new (FARC) chief,” Chavez said.

After recalling that in 2007 he was “on the verge” of meeting Marulanda to negotiate the release of the hostages, he emphasised that the current situation allows progress on the matter of the hostages held by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

Septuagenarian Marulanda eventually died March 26 following a heart attack.

The leftist Venezuelan president called upon Argentina, Brazil, Nicaragua, Ecuador, France, Spain, Portugal and The Vatican, as well as the Organisation of American States to guarantee “a peace that can be respected”.

“I ask you for help … Enough of all this war. The time has come to sit down to talk peace. That is the desire of we Venezuelans,” Chavez said, adding: “I’m at your service, Cano, to go and seek the hostages … That’s enough, the guerrilla war is part of history.”

The FARC, Colombia’s oldest and largest leftist guerrilla group, was founded in 1964, has an estimated 17,000 fighters and operatives across a large swath of the Andean nation.

Colombia’s Uribe administration has made fighting the FARC a top priority and has obtained billions in US aid for counterinsurgency operations.

The guerrilla group is holding 40 high-value hostages it deems “exchangeable” for as many as 500 jailed rebels.

The most prominent of the hostages are former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt and three US military contractors.

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