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Last Updated: Saturday, 24 February 2007, 03:43 GMT
Colombia head 'ready for talks'
Farc rebels. File photo
Farc is Colombia's largest rebel group with about 16,000 fighters
Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has expressed willingness to reopen "direct contact" with left-wing Farc rebels.

In a statement, he also authorised relatives of people abducted by Farc guerrillas to meet the rebels and work towards a prisoner exchange.

Farc, the country's largest rebel group, currently holds hundreds of prisoners and political hostages.

The move came on the fifth anniversary of the abduction of former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt.

Farc - the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia - want to exchange about 60 high-profile and foreign hostages - including Ms Betancourt - for about 500 jailed guerrillas as a step towards peace talks.

"The president has said the government is prepared to have direct contact with Farc, without intermediaries," a short statement from Mr Uribe's office said.

The president also directed Lucy de Gechen, wife of a senator abducted five years ago, to work towards holding direct negotiations with the rebels on the hostages.

Mr Uribe broke off talks with the rebels in October last year after a car bomb attack in the capital Bogota injured more than 20 people.

Farc has been fighting the government for more than four decades.

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