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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 January 2008, 02:33 GMT
Colombian clergy 'contact' Farc
Maria Teresa Mendieta, wife of Col Luis Mendieta, a police officer abducted nine years ago, reads her first letter from him in five years
Some of the hostages' families had received no word for years
Roman Catholic clergy in Colombia say they are in contact with the Farc rebel group in an attempt to secure the release of more of its hostages.

Roman Catholic leader Monsignor Luis Augusto Castro said the Church was in discreet contact with the rebels in a bid to secure a Red Cross visit.

It is hoped that the Red Cross will be allowed to see more than 40 high-profile hostages in the jungle.

The Farc released two of their captives last week.

One of those released, former MP Consuelo Gonzalez, brought letters from some of the hostages she left behind, which revealed the extent of their mental and physical suffering.

Col Luis Mendieta, a police officer, was abducted nine years ago. His wife received her first letter from him in five years, in which he described being laid so low by tropical diseases that he crawled on his hands and knees for about five weeks.

"I've been crying so much, my eyes are inflamed," Maria Teresa Mendieta told the Associated Press on Wednesday in her Bogota apartment.

Spat with Venezuela

In another development, Colombian Foreign Minister Fernando Araujo launched an attack on President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, who helped secure the release of the two hostages last week.

Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) fighters (file photo)
The Farc has said 2008 will see an upsurge in guerrilla operations

He accused Mr Chavez of mistreating the Colombian authorities and people, and called for him to have respect.

Mr Chavez, he said, "confuses cooperation with meddling, just as he confused mediation with taking sides".

The Venezuelan president earlier made a speech in Nicaragua in which he accused Colombian and US officials of conspiring against him.

"In Bogota, there are American officials and Colombian military officials conspiring against Venezuela, conspiring to kill me, conspiring to start an armed conflict between Colombia and Venezuela," he said.

Last week Bogota protested when Mr Chavez called for the Farc and fellow leftist group the ELN to be removed from lists of terrorist groups.

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