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Last Updated: Wednesday, 27 July 2005, 05:25 GMT 06:25 UK
Colombia seeks hostages' release
Relative prays for hostages
The Farc wants jailed guerrillas exchanged for the hostages
Colombia's government has said for the first time it is ready to hold talks with Farc rebels, in an effort to get about 60 hostages released.

Peace negotiator Luis Carlos Restrepo said the government would meet Farc representatives at the time and place of their choosing.

Previously the Colombian government had demanded a total ceasefire before talking to the rebels.

He said talks would go ahead as long as the rebels showed they were serious.

"The government is ready for a direct and immediate meeting with the Farc," Mr Restrepo said.

The group of hostages includes a former Colombian presidential candidate, Ingrid Betancourt, former politicians and three American citizens.

Election year

The Farc, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, have been trying for nearly three years to get the release of several hundred jailed guerillas in return for the freeing of the hostages, but the negotiations have stalled.

The announcement comes after French government officials met the guerrillas in an attempt to secure the release of Ms Betancourt, who is also a French citizen.

President Alvaro Uribe previously ruled out exchanging rebel hostages for guerrillas serving sentences for crimes like murder and kidnapping.

However, next year is an election year and he is hoping to win another term.

The BBC's Jeremy McDermott says talking peace in Colombia is always good for votes.

Also the US government, which bankrolls the Colombian government to the tune of more than $600m a year, wants to secure the release of three of its citizens who are also in Farc hands.

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