( AP ) - President Hugo Chavez met with a representative of Colombia's largest guerrilla group Thursday, saying he and Luciano Marin Arango held their first talks aimed at negotiating a swap of rebel-held hostages for jailed guerrillas.
"We are here trying to put the pieces to together" for an agreement, Chavez told state television as Marin Arango, better known by his nom de guerre Ivan Marquez, stood next to him on the steps of Venezuela's presidential palace.
Marquez said a future meeting between Chavez and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia commander Manuel Marulanda - possibly in Colombia's El Yari region - was needed to overcome obstacles to a prisoner swap, which could include three Americans and French-Colombian citizen Ingrid Betancourt.
El Yari, where Marulanda is thought to be hiding out, is located in the jungle province of Vichada near Colombia's borders with Venezuela and Brazil.
Marquez said he thought a Chavez-Marulanda meeting in El Yari could remove the main obstacles to a swap involving about 50 hostages and as many as 500 jailed rebels.
Colombian Peace Commissioner Luis Carlos Restrepo has said that Colombia's government has not authorized a meeting between Chavez and FARC leaders on Colombian soil.
Hostages held by the FARC include three U.S. defense contractors whose plane crashed in the Colombian jungle in 2003 and Betancourt, a former Colombian presidential candidate who has been a captive for more than five years.
The government of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, which backs Chavez's negotiation efforts, has urged the FARC to provide mediators with proof that Betancourt is alive. Chavez said he hopes to bring such evidence to French officials during an upcoming trip to Paris.
Colombia's U.S.-allied government in September authorized Chavez to broker a deal with the leftist rebels.