Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has called on the US and European governments to stop treating Colombian left-wing rebel groups as terrorists.

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Mr Chavez said the Farc and ELN guerrilla movements were armies with a political project and should be recognised as such.

He was speaking a day after helping manage the Farc’s release of two hostages held for more than five years.

The Colombian president swiftly rejected Mr Chavez’s idea.

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Just a day after helping to broker the liberation of two high-profile hostages, Clara Rojas and Consuelo Gonzalez, Mr Chavez used his annual state of the nation speech to make the appeal, addressing himself to Colombia’s conservative President Alvaro Uribe.

“I ask you (Uribe) that we start recognising the Farc and the ELN as insurgent forces in Colombia and not terrorist groups, and I ask the same of the governments of this continent and the world,” Mr Chavez said.

‘Pain and poverty’

But Mr Uribe quickly rejected the idea.

He said the insurgents were terrorists who funded their operations with cocaine smuggling, recruited children and planted land mines in their effort to topple a democratically elected government.

“The only thing they have produced is displacement, pain, unemployment and poverty,” Mr Uribe said.

The Colombian and Venezuelan presidents have been squabbling for months over Mr Chavez’s role in trying to mediate swap of hostages for guerrilla prisoners held by Colombia’s government.

The release of Ms Rojas and Ms Gonzalez was the most important handover in the Colombian conflict since 2001.

The Farc said the unilateral move showed its willingness to negotiate over remaining hostages.

Correspondents say it was a triumph for Mr Chavez, who greeted the women in Caracas on Thursday following their release.

The Venezuelan president has said he wants to repeat the success with dozens of other captives.

But Mr Uribe has been wary of his Venezuelan counterpart’s involvement.

The Farc and the smaller ELN say they are fighting for a fairer distribution of wealth.

In 2002 the EU joined the US in classifying the Farc as a terrorist group.

* BBC NEWS:

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