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Venezuela's Chavez 'held secret talks with Farc rebel'

Venezuela"s President Hugo Chavez (file image from 25/02/2010)
Hugo Chavez said the meeting was held at dawn

Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez has said that he once held secret talks with a top leader of Colombian rebel group Farc.

Mr Chavez said he met Raul Reyes, later killed in a Colombian military raid, at the request of the country's president.

But a former Colombian peace negotiator has denied Mr Chavez's claims that any meeting was asked for by then-president Andres Pastrana.

Mr Chavez said the meeting was held at his presidential residence in Caracas.

"I once met Raul Reyes, in private and in secret," Mr Chavez said, according to Colombian and Spanish media reports.

"We spoke at dawn, because [former Colombian President] Andres Pastrana asked me to, he asked me to several times," he added.

Link claims

Former Colombian peace negotiator Camilo Gomez denied the claims, saying that Mr Chavez "is not being faithful to the truth".

Senior Farc commander Raul Reyes, file picture
Reyes was killed during a military operation

He said that though Mr Chavez had requested talks with Farc, no official authorisation or approval had ever been given.

Raul Reyes, considered the second highest person within the Farc hierarchy, was killed by the Colombian military during an operation in March 2008.

There have long been allegations of links between Farc and Mr Chavez's left-wing government in Venezuela.

The Venezuelan president's comments came after the country angrily dismissed allegations made by a Spanish judge that the Venezuelan government assisted both Basque separatist group Eta and Farc, which plotted to kill Colombia's President Alvaro Uribe.

The largest of Colombia's rebel groups, Farc was founded in 1964 and has mounted a long-running insurgency aimed at toppling the Colombian government and establishing a Marxist-style state.

In 2008 a major diplomatic dispute arose after Colombia accused Venezuela of running arms to Farc. Mr Chavez has strenuously denied any such links.



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Profiles: Colombia's armed groups
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