Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez said Friday he sent two F-16 jets to intercept and escort a US military plane out of the South American nation's airspace, a claim denied by US officials.
AFP - President Hugo Chavez said a US military aircraft had entered Venezuelan airspace on Friday, insisting that the governments of the United States and the Netherlands were behind what he described as a "provocative action."
The United States has denied the charge.
Chavez said he ordered two F-16 jets to intercept a P-3 Orion anti-submarine/ surveillance aircraft that entered Venezuelan airspace from the nearby Netherlands Antilles.
The US plane, according to the Venezuelan president, returned to the Dutch Caribbean island of Curacao after it twice entered Venezuelan airspace, where it spent a total of about half an hour and was escorted out by the F-16s.
"We're not inventing anything when we say the government of Holland must assume their responsibilities," the firebrand leftist leader said.
"We are here ready to defend Venezuela's sovereignty... We accuse the governments of the United States and Holland of launching provocative actions against Venezuela, to find an excuse to attack Venezuela."
But the US Southern Command, which is in charge of US military activities in the hemisphere, said that it was able to confirm that no US military aircraft had entered Venezuelan airspace on Friday.
"As a matter of policy we do not fly over a nation's air space without prior consent and coordination," the command said in a statement. "We operate with the utmost respect for the sovereignty of the nations in our hemisphere."
In addition, a senior Barack Obama administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the administration was unaware of any incidents involving US government aircraft in Venezuelan airspace on Friday.
US military officials "are unaware of any US government plane within 300 plus nautical miles of Venezuelan airspace today," the official pointed out.
Last month, Chavez accused the United States of launching a spy plane from Colombia that violated his country's airspace, and vowed to shoot down any such aircraft in the future.
"I ordered these little planes to be shot down," Chavez added on his weekly television and radio program. "We cannot permit this."
Also last month, Venezuela's foreign ministry called on the international community to condemn alleged incursions into its airspace by US military drones launched from Aruba and the Netherlands Antilles.
It said the intrusions by US military aircraft were an indication that "the warmongering US government" was preparing "an aggression against the territory and people of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela."
The Netherlands has rejected the allegations, with Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen calling the accusation "unfair, baseless and fantastical."
Venezuela suspended diplomatic relations with Colombia in July in response to a US-Colombian military base deal, denouncing it as a military threat to the sovereignty of Latin American countries and saying it paved the way for a possible attack against Venezuela.
In December, Chavez said the US military was using Dutch islands off Venezuela's Caribbean coast -- Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao -- as a staging area for a possible attack. The Netherlands has denied the claims.
Date created : 2010-01-09