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Colombia rebels reject peace talks with Uribe



CARACAS, July 16, 2008

Colombia's Marxist FARC rebels have rejected peace talks with the government of President Alvaro Uribe, according to a letter shown on Venezuelan television on Tuesday.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known by their Spanish acronym FARC, instead demanded to meet with leftist Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, according to the letter broadcast on Telesur.

"Uribe is not programmed by the gringos (Americans) for peace or an exchange (of hostages for prisoners)," said the letter dated June 26.

"Only a new, truly democratic government, arising from a broad national agreement, could return to the path of seeking a political solution to the social and armed conflict that Colombia is experiencing," it said.

Addressing Ortega, the letter signed by the FARC's leadership council said: "We would like to speak personally with you or your delegate on these topics of war and peace."

The rebel group said a hostage-for-prisoner swap with the Colombian government would be the "first step toward generating the right atmosphere to talk about peace."

The letter was written before the Colombian military rescued 15 hostages, including three Americans and Franco-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt, who had been held hostage for several years by the FARC.

The FARC, Latin America's oldest and largest insurgency, have sought to topple the government since the 1960s. They are estimated to hold more than 700 hostages for ransom or as political bargaining chips.

FARC thanked Ortega for giving asylum to two female FARC guerrillas who fled a Colombian military attack on a rebel camp inside Ecuador on March 1 that killed the group's second-in-command Raul Reyes.

The Nicaraguan president, a former Sandinista guerrilla leader who toppled Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1979, broke diplomatic relations with Bogota after the March raid, as did Ecuador.

Last weekend, the leftist leader said Colombia's hostage rescue mission earlier this month -- which did not spill a single drop of blood -- had "killed the possibility of negotiations in the near future" between FARC and Bogota.

Ortega and fellow leftist presidents Rafael Correa, of Ecuador, and Hugo Chavez, of Venezuela, were meeting Tuesday in Ecuador to discuss Colombia.

Story from AFP
AFP 15 2027 GMT 07 08

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