Colombia calls halt to Chavez-FARC hostage talks

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BOGOTA, Nov 22 (Reuters) Colombia has accused Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez of overstepping his bounds while trying to mediate the release of hostages held by left-wing rebels and called off the talks.

Hopes had been high that Chavez would broker a deal in which rebel kidnap victims, including French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt, would be exchanged for guerrillas held in government jails.

''The president has terminated the mediation,'' Colombian President Alvaro Uribe said in a statement.

Earlier in the day, Chavez spoke with Colombian armed services commander Mario Montoya and requested information about the hostages, according to Uribe's statement yesterday.

This violated an agreement between Uribe and Chavez that only the two leaders would hold discussions about hostages held by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, the statement said.

''This is a complete setback for any possible hostage exchange.

But Uribe had no choice,'' said Pablo Casas, analyst at Bogota think tank Security&Democracy.

''You cannot accept the president of another country requesting information directly from your top military commander,'' Casas said.

''That is totally against protocol.'' Reuters SZ DB1100

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