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Colombia accuses Chavez of funding FARC guerrillas

Latest update : 2008-03-03

The Colombian authorities said FARC documents show Venezuela President Hugo Chavez gave $300 million in payments to FARC. FRANCE 24 correspondent in Colombia Steven Ambrus reports.

SAN ANTONIO, Venezuela, March 3 (Reuters) - Colombia
accused Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Monday of funding
Marxist rebels on its soil, intensifying a dispute that has
prompted Chavez to send tanks and troops to the border.
 

A three-nation crisis has erupted since Colombia moved
troops into Ecuador at the weekend in a bombing raid that
killed a top Colombian rebel leader in his jungle camp.
 

It was a major blow to the FARC, Latin America's oldest
guerrilla group, but the leftist Chavez mobilized his military
and warned U.S.-backed Colombia it could start a war if it also
struck inside Venezuela.
 

Colombia's police chief, Gen. Oscar Naranjo, said documents
found at the FARC camp in Ecuador showed evidence that Chavez
gave the rebels $300 million and had suggested a deal to supply
them with old rifles.
 

Naranjo said the documents also revealed ties between the
rebel leader, Raul Reyes, and a representative of Ecuadorean
President Rafael Correa's leftist government.
 

"This unmasks the relations of the FARC with a series of
governments, with a series of personalities, some public, some
more sinister," Naranjo said, adding that the rebel group also
talked about buying of a batch of uranium.
 

Chavez recently negotiated the release of six hostages held
by the FARC and his government rejected Colombia's allegations
on Monday. Correa also responded angrily.
 

"They said we had a pact with terrorists, and that is
completely false," he said during a Cabinet meeting in Quito.
"We are dealing with an extremely cynical government."
 

Correa has sent thousands of troops to the border with
Colombia and threatened to escalate the diplomatic fight after
expelling Colombia's ambassador on Sunday.
 

But Colombia said it would not send extra troops to its
frontiers with Venezuela and Ecuador. Nor did it take any steps
to downgrade diplomatic ties.
 

BARK OR BITE?
 

Governments from France to the United States and Brazil
tried to defuse the tensions between Colombian President Alvaro
Uribe, a staunch conservative, and his left-wing rivals.
 

"The most important thing today is that we can avoid an
escalation of this conflict," Chilean President Michelle
Bachelet said.
 

Traffic was normal in San Antonio at the main border
crossing point between Venezuela and Colombia, and while
Venezuela and Ecuador said they had reinforced their borders,
there was no immediate sign of any mobilization.
 

One Venezuelan military commander at a major base said his
tanks were ready to move to the border but had not mobilized
yet.
 

Venezuela state TV offered blanket coverage of the crisis
but it showed no images of tanks, planes or troops moving and
no other media reported military movements in the border area.
 

Despite the leaders' brinkmanship and the risk of military
missteps, political analysts said a conflict was unlikely on
borders that stretch from parched desert through Andean
mountains and jungles to the Pacific Ocean.
 

Chavez, the leader of a growing bloc of Latin American
leftist leaders, may win points with supporters by challenging
Uribe but experts say he can ill afford to lose food imports
from Colombia just as he tries to combat chronic food shortages
in his OPEC nation.
 

Still, with Chavez warning war could break out, there was
immediate impact on the economies of the three Andean nations,
which have billions of dollars of cross-border trade.
 

Venezuelan and Ecuadorean debt and Colombia's currency all
lost value on Monday.
 

"It raises headline risks for all three countries
significantly," Gianfranco Bertozzi of Lehman Brothers said.
 

Colombia justified its incursion into Ecuador by saying
that international law allows such actions against terrorists,
and it accused Ecuador of allowing the Marxist FARC rebels to
take refuge in its territory.
 

But Ecuador said Colombia deliberately violated its
sovereignty and urged Latin American governments to pressure
Uribe's government so that it does not repeat the
"aggression."
 

Date created : 2008-03-03

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