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Last Updated: Sunday, 9 March 2008, 07:34 GMT
Chavez issues plea for Betancourt
Ingrid Betancourt in March 2001 in Paris and on a picture released in November 2007
Ingrid Betancourt before her kidnap (left) and several years later (right)
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has urged the leader of the left-wing Farc rebels in Colombia to free their only remaining female political hostage.

Speaking in Caracas, alongside the mother of captive Ingrid Betancourt, he addressed his appeal directly to Farc leader Manuel Marulanda.

There was, he said, no sense in still keeping her in the Colombian jungle.

Venezuela and Ecuador, he said, had been seeking her release through Ecuadorean territory.

But that attempt had been disrupted by the Colombian operation to kill senior Farc commander Raul Reyes in a raid inside Ecuador, Mr Chavez said.

Liberate Ingrid Betancourt. It doesn't make sense to keep her in the jungles of Colombia
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez

The raid, carried out without Ecuador's permission, sparked a furious row between Mr Chavez and Ecadorean President Rafael Correa on one side, and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe on the other.

Colombia has accused Mr Chavez of having long-standing links with Farc and funding them with hundreds of millions of dollars.

Key role

Ingrid Betancourt is the most high-profile of the scores of hostages held by Farc in the jungle.

A former Colombian presidential candidate, she was abducted during the presidential campaign in 2002.

She was pictured in recent video, looking thin and frail.

There has been an international campaign for her release, and her supporters hope Mr Chavez may be able to deliver a breakthrough.

He has recently played a key role in negotiating the release of six Farc political hostages, including two women, Clara Rojas and Consuelo Gonzalez.

On Saturday he appealed to the chief of Farc to do the same for Ms Betancourt.

"From here I send a request to Manuel Marulanda. Manuel Marulanda, send us Ingrid," he said.

"On this International Women's Day, I expressly ask you to do it.

"When you can, when the conditions make it possible, liberate Ingrid Betancourt. She's the only woman who is still in the hands of the Farc. It doesn't make sense to keep her in the jungles of Colombia."

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