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Author`s name Alex Naumov

Controversy after Colombia abruptly cancelled Chavez mediation talks

Shortly after Venezuela said on Thursday that it accepted the "sovereign" decision of Colombia to end President Hugo Chavez's role as a mediator seeking to free rebel-held hostages, it became known that France will ask Bogota for the continuity of the negotiations. “We continue to think that president Chavez is the best chance of securing the release of Ingrid Betancourt and all the other hostages currently held by the FARC in Colombia," Sarkozy's spokesman David Martinon told a news conference.

Colombian leader Alvaro Uribe accused Chavez on Wednesday of overstepping his mandate while trying to mediate the release of hostages held by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) by contacting a Colombian military general and stopped the negotiations.

Caracas said it was frustrated by Uribe’s decision. "The government of Venezuela accepts this sovereign decision by the government of Colombia, but expresses its frustration given that in this manner the process that was being carried out with determination has been aborted," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

President Alvaro Uribe ended his backing after Chavez contacted Colombia's army commander directly, violating an agreement between the two leaders. Uribe had given Chavez until the end of the year to negotiate with the rebels, who have praised Venezuela's so-called Bolivarian revolution.

The break-off is a blow to Chavez, who had burnished his credentials as a statesman by working for weeks to talk to the FARC guerrillas over freeing a French-Colombian politician and three U.S. defense contractors held for years in jungle camps.

“This was no way to wake up on Thanksgiving,'' said Lynne Stansell, mother of Keith Stansell, one of three U.S. captives. ``We are very discouraged, but know Uribe is committed to freeing them. Hopefully he will find another avenue.'' Uribe also withdrew his support for Colombian opposition Senator Piedad Cordoba's mediation with the rebel group, known by its Spanish initials, FARC.

``We have to make every effort for peace, and for the humanitarian swap, but we must take into account that we cannot risk security,'' Uribe said in a statement e-mailed by his office. Chavez met with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and relatives of Betancourt in Paris Nov. 20 to discuss his efforts. He failed to provide proof of life that Sarkozy had called for.

Betancourt's sister, Astrid Betancourt, said today the negotiation efforts led by Chavez and Piedad Cordoba were ``the only viable alternative'' to resolving the situation, the newswire EFE reported.

Chavez’s mediation efforts were intially backed by Colombia after plans to release hostages by force failed. France is the main sponsor of Chavez bid as president Sarkozy has personally comitted to save the life of the French – Colombian citizen, ingrid Betancourt. Washington has neither supported nor opposed Chavez mediation.

Hernan Etchaleco

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