Page last updated at 00:51 GMT, Friday, 18 July 2008 01:51 UK

Nicaragua's Farc offer rebuffed

Daniel Ortega, file image
Daniel Ortega was leader of a left-wing rebel group in Nicaragua

An offer by Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega to hold talks with Colombia's Farc guerrillas has been rejected by the government in Bogota.

Earlier this week the leftist rebels issued a statement inviting Mr Ortega to meet them. He replied that he was prepared to talk to his "brothers".

Colombian ministers responded angrily, saying they would not authorise contact between Mr Ortega and the rebels.

The Farc have fought to overthrow the government for decades.

But their strength is thought to be severely depleted following a number of recent setbacks.

The most recent blow came with the dramatic release of French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt, who had been their highest-profile hostage.

'Brothers' controversy

Mr Ortega, whose left-wing Sandinista rebels fought against the Managua government during the 1970s, made his offer of mediation late on Wednesday.

"We respond to our brothers in the Farc that yes, we are prepared to talk, we are prepared to hold dialogue, to contribute to peace in Colombia," he said.

Colombia's newly-appointed foreign minister, Jaime Bermudez, responded by sending a note of protest to Managua.

"The Colombian government does not authorise or endorse any process that Mr Ortega expects to have in connection with a terrorist organisation, in this case the Farc," the note said.

Mr Bermudez was reported to be unhappy with Mr Ortega's use of the term "brothers" to describe the rebels.

The Farc, or the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, was formed in the 1960s with the intention of overthrowing the government and installing a Marxist regime.

In the 1990s, the group became increasingly involved in the drug trade and in kidnappings to raise money.

They still hold an estimated 700 people, including about 25 high-profile captives that are used as potential bargaining chips in dealings with the government.

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