France's top diplomat seeks Chavez's help to free hostages in Colombia

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) - France's top diplomat sought help from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to press for the liberation of rebel-held hostages in Colombia.

Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner aimed Wednesday to kick-start talks to free hostages, including French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt.

"We spoke about the liberation of the hostages, all of the hostages - of course Ingrid, but also all of the others," Kouchner said after emerging from the presidential palace. He revealed few details of their talks.

Kouchner has said he believes Chavez can play an important role in negotiations. The leftist rebels have expressed an ideological affinity for the socialist president, freeing six Colombian hostages to his government this year.

The French envoy's meeting with Chavez ends a tour that included talks with Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa and his Colombian counterpart Alvaro Uribe.

Uribe told reporters Wednesday he had ruled out any new mediation efforts to avoid "new risks to international relations." He did not directly mention Chavez.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, have proposed swapping Betancourt and other high-value hostages, including three U.S. military contractors, for jailed guerrillas, including three imprisoned in the United States.

France sent a mission to Colombia earlier this month in hope of treating and possibly freeing Betancourt, who is said to be ill. But the FARC spurned the mission, later saying they would not unilaterally release any more captives.

Negotiations have stalled since France's main guerrilla contact, rebel spokesman Raul Reyes, was killed in a cross-border, Colombian military raid into Ecuador on March 1, which sparked a regional diplomatic crisis.

Chavez and Correa sent troops to their borders before they conflict was eased at a regional summit in the Dominican Republic last month.

But tensions remain. Correa on Saturday said Uribe had "the air of a little dictator." He agreed to recognize the FARC as an "irregular force" but not as terrorists - the label used by Colombia, the United States and the European Union.

France will do "all that it can" to help reduce tensions, Kouchner said.

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