BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombian President Alvaro Uribe on Monday rejected involvement of any foreign government in negotiating the release of FARC guerrilla hostages after the rebels offered to free six captives from their jungle camps.
Uribe’s comments appeared to refer to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, the left-wing leader who earlier this year helped broker the release of a group of FARC captives but later clashed with Bogota over Latin America’s oldest insurgency.
The FARC says it plans soon to hand two kidnapped politicians and four members of the armed forces to a Colombian senator and Chavez ally, Piedad Cordoba, who suggested the Venezuelan leader could help facilitate the release.
“The government will not permit our foreign relations to be put at risk by involving personalities from the international community,” Uribe said without referring to Chavez by name.
Chavez and Cordoba helped negotiate the release of six hostages at the start of the year. But Colombia was uneasy with what officials saw as Chavez’s open sympathy for the Marxist rebels, who are labeled terrorists by the United States.
Ties soured further when Colombian soldiers killed a top FARC commander hiding inside Ecuador, triggering a brief dispute during which Caracas and Quito recalled their envoys from Bogota and sent troops to the Colombian frontier.
“Everything depends on Colombia’s government, in the case they ask us to participate. We will respect any decision the Colombian government has taken or will take,” Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro told reporters.
The FARC gave few details on the planned release. But they say three police officers and one soldier will be freed first, followed by former state governor Alan Jara and local lawmaker Sigifredo Lopez, both held for more than six years.
Uribe, popular at home for his U.S.-funded military campaign against the rebels, said the government would allow the International Committee of the Red Cross to take part.
Once a mighty army controlling large parts of Colombia, the FARC has been battered this year by the desertions, the deaths of three commanders and the rescue of key hostages, including French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt.
Attempts to negotiate a deal to free at least 28 high-profile hostages in rebel hands have been stalled over a FARC demand Uribe demilitarize a safe haven. Uribe refuses, but offers talks under international observation.
Reporting by Patrick Markey in Bogota; Editing by Brian Ellsworth and David Wiessler