Colombia rebels pledge proof hostages alive-Chavez

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PARIS, Nov 20 (Reuters) - Colombian Marxist rebels have pledged to provide proof by the end of the year that high-profile hostages are alive, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said today.

Chavez was in Paris to meet French President Nicolas Sarkozy about his mediating efforts between Colombia's government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a guerrilla group that has waged a four-decade war against the state.

Sarkozy has made securing the release of French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt one of his foreign policy priorities and Chavez hopes to negotiate a prisoner exchange with the rebels.

''Ingrid is alive,'' Chavez told reporters after meeting Sarkozy, repeating previous comments.

Chavez had repeatedly said he hoped to bring Sarkozy proof that Betancoburt was alive.

So far there has been no indication that he has obtained such evidence, but he said FARC commander Manuel Marulanda had sent a letter to Colombian Senator Piedad Cordoba pledging to provide such evidence soon.

''We have received a letter from Mr Marulanda through Mrs Cordoba in which the head of the FARC pledges to provide proof of life before the end of the year, not only concerning Mrs Betancourt but the other hostages as well,'' Chavez said.

The Marxist FARC wants rebels held in government prisons to be freed in exchange for its most high-profile captives, including Betancourt and three US contract workers held for years in jungle camps.

Chavez and Sarkozy met relatives of former Colombian presidential candidate Betancourt, who was kidnapped along with her campaign aide Clara Rojas in February 2002. Neither Betancourt nor Rojas have been heard from since 2003.

Colombia's government increased the pressure on Chavez overnight by saying in a statement it was giving Chavez until the end of the year to broker a deal with the FARC.

''Impatience is not good counsel,'' Chavez responded.

''We have achieved things in three months that had never been achieved in five years previously,'' he said, speaking through an interpreter.

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