Envoys seek Colombia rebel talks

July 3, 2008 - 0:0

The Colombian government said two European envoys are in the country to seek talks with FARC rebel leaders and broker a possible release of hostages.

The Swiss and French mediators were authorized to travel to FARC-controlled areas where hundreds of kidnapped people are being held, officials said.
The rebels want to swap high-profile hostages for jailed guerrillas.
Talks with FARC's new leader Alfonso Cano could be a step towards breaking the deadlock, correspondents say.
""The two European delegates entered Colombia in the past few days, requested authorization from the government to go for a direct meeting with the FARC's secretariat,"" said presidential spokesman Cesar Mauricio Velasquez.
He did not specify whether the talks had already taken place, and did not name the envoys.
However, Colombian media reported that the two men, named as Noel Saenz from France and Jean Pierre Gontard from Switzerland, were believed to have already met FARC leaders, possibly including the new rebel commander.
Guillermo Leon Saenz, alias Alfonso Cano, took over as the leader of FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) after co-founder Manuel Marulanda died in March.
Previous missions
The rebels are believed to be at their weakest point in years following the death of Marulanda and two other commanders, and a growing number of desertions.
The Colombian military is also keeping the pressure on the FARC with continued attacks.
The FARC wants to exchange some 40 high-profile hostages for hundreds of imprisoned guerrillas, including three jailed in the U.S.
The hostages include politicians Ingrid Betancourt, who holds dual French-Colombian nationality, and three American military contractors.
The rebels want a zone to be demilitarized where talks about hostage releases can take place.
Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has maintained a firm stance against the FARC, which is regarded as a terrorist group by the U.S. and the European Union.
He has rejected the idea of a demilitarized zone, offering instead a smaller area where there are no armed groups and with the presence of international observers.
France, Switzerland and Spain have undertaken previously unsuccessful missions to try to secure the release of Ms Betancourt, who is reported to be gravely ill.
Negotiations stalled after the killing of France's main rebel contact, Raul Reyes, in a Colombian military raid into Ecuador on 1 March.
(Source: BBC)