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Chavez helped rebels, says freed hostage

Geologist Jorge Andres Sierra, who was in the captivity of the leftist National Liberation Army (ELN), went into exile soon after his release by the group.
By HT Correspondent | IANS, Bogota
UPDATED ON FEB 17, 2008 05:52 PM IST

A former Colombian hostage who spent nearly two years in the captivity of the country's second largest leftist insurgent group has accused Venezuela's Hugo Chavez government of providing safe haven to the rebels, Spain's EFE news agency reported on Sunday.

Geologist Jorge Andres Sierra, who was in the captivity of the leftist National Liberation Army (ELN), went into exile soon after his release by the group.

Sierra has accused the Venezuelan government of having a secret pact - a "non-aggression treaty" - with the rebels, which allows the group to move freely in that country and in return it would not kidnap Venezuelan citizens.

Sierra said during an interview with the Colombian radio that he was taken to a Venezuelan jungle by his captors, since according to them, Venezuela was a "friendly territory".

He said the insurgents were holding six more Colombians in their hideouts in the Venezuelan territory.

"When Venezuelan military helicopters flew overhead, the pilots waved at the guerrillas. I yelled that I was kidnapped, but they told me that if I escape, the Venezuelan National Guard would hand me over to the ELN", Sierra said.

The ELN has some 5,000 combatants and is the second largest rebel group after the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in the country.

Both the rebel groups support the political ideals of Chavez and have asked for his support in initiating a peace process with the Colombian government.

Chavez maintains that the ELN and FARC are not terrorist groups but are "insurgent forces". He urged the Colombian government to give them the "status of belligerents", which brought an acrid diplomatic protest from that country.

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