Chavez upbeat about Colombian rebel negotiations

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SANTIAGO, Nov 10 (Reuters) Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said late on Friday he was still optimistic of helping negotiate a prisoner exchange between Colombia's government and a Marxist rebel group, although there were points on which neither side would give ground.

Chavez is mediating between the government of President Alvaro Uribe and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, for an exchange of hostages in rebel captivity for guerrillas held in government prisons.

Emerging from a meeting with Uribe on the sidelines of the Ibero-American summit of Latin leaders in Chile, Chavez said yesterday he and Uribe had discussed ways to move the talks forward.

''I see the president as being very optimistic and of course firm in his position, just as I see the FARC firm in their position,'' Chavez said afterward. ''But I'm optimistic we can carry on along this path.'' The FARC wants rebel prisoners freed in exchange for its most high-profile captives, including French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt and three US contract workers held for years in jungle camps.

''I've given reasons to President Chavez about certain points in this process that are nonnegotiable and which must remain as such in this search for the freedom of hostages in the hands of the FARC terrorists,'' Uribe told reporters after the meeting.

Reuters JT GC1016

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