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Chavez hopes Ingrid Betancourt alive

Colombian rebels have promised to furnish proof by year's end that one hostage, former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, is alive, claimed Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez after a meeting with French President.

Chavez spoke after a meeting with Nicolas Sarkozy about Betancourt, who is part French and whose plight has fixated the nation.

Betancourt, who was abducted in 2002, is being held by the FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

"Ingrid is alive. I'm absolutely certain," Chavez told reporters.

Chavez, working as an intermediary, is trying to arrange a swap of prisoners. He said when he arrived in Paris on Monday that he has "a lot of faith that we're going to achieve the accord."

Chavez had a working lunch Tuesday with Sarkozy, who has made freeing Betancourt a priority.

Betancourt's family - and France - want proof she is still alive. Chavez said Tuesday that FARC commander Manuel Marulanda wrote to him promising to furnish that proof "by the end of the year."

Chavez said Marulanda had said she "is being treated well."

"I trust in Marulanda's word," Chavez said.

The government of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has set a time limit of no later than December for Chavez's efforts - signaling diminishing patience with what many Colombians see as a public spectacle by Venezuela's socialist president.

Betancourt was running for president when she was abducted from the campaign trail in 2002 along with her campaign manager, Clara Rojas, and spirited into the Colombian jungle. The last time Betancourt was seen publicly was in a video statement in 2003.

Betancourt's relatives were also meeting with Sarkozy and Chavez on Tuesday.

Chavez emerged as a negotiator in Colombia's long-running conflict in part because FARC rebels express an affinity for his leftist ideals, and because he has cordial ties with U.S.-allied Uribe, despite deep ideological differences.

The FARC has demanded that two Colombian rebels imprisoned in the United States be included in any prisoner swap.

One of them, Ricardo Palmera - or Simon Trinidad - is to be sentenced by a judge in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday for the kidnapping of three Americans in Colombia. Another, Nayibe "Sonia" Rojas, was convicted this year by a U.S. court of exporting cocaine.

In an e-mail sent to news media on Monday, the FARC released the transcript of an earlier interview with rebel Luciano Marin Arango, better known by the nom de guerre Ivan Marquez, who met with Chavez on Nov. 8.

In the interview, dated Nov. 9, Arango is quoted as saying: "While Chavez is heading up this mediation, hope will stay alive."

The idiosyncratic Venezuelan did not show up for a planned speech to French business leaders on Tuesday morning, instead sending two of his ministers.