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Bogota says troops on 'maximum alert'

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Colombia has put its forces on maximum alert after accusing Venezuelan troops of deliberately blowing up two footbridges that straddled the border between the two feuding countries.


AFP - Colombia warned Friday that its forces were on "maximum alert" and were prepared to defend against any attack, amid rising tensions with neighboring Venezuela.

Colombian Defense Minister Gabriel Silva issued the warning after a meeting of the country's national security council in Arauca, a city on the eastern border with Venezuela.

He said President Alvaro Uribe and the military forces of Colombia were intent on remaining calm "because they know there are provocative forces on the border that must be avoided at all cost."

But this "does not mean that we are not prepared or are not on maximum alert to prevent any aggression against Colombia, against Colombians or against our territory."

Uribe's national security council met for five hours in Arauca with military and police commanders in the border area a day after Bogota charged that Venezuelan troops had blown up two footbridges across the border in northeastern Colombia.

Silva said the destruction of the bridges was an aggression against the civilian population.

"Those bridges were built more than 30 years ago, it was infrastructure built to bring the community together, to work together," he said.

Venezuela said Thursday the bridges were destroyed because they were being used by drug traffickers and smugglers.

The two neighbors have long been at odds, but tensions have sharpened in recent months over a US-Colombian agreement giving the US military access to seven Colombian bases.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on July 28 suspended diplomatic relations with Colombia and earlier this month warned his nation to "prepare for war."

Colombia responded by lodging a diplomatic note with the UN Security Council accusing Caracas of threatening to use force against it.

Caracas then accused Bogota of detaining four of its soldiers in a border river's international waters.

The four members of Venezuela's national guard, who were detained in Colombia Saturday and released a day later, were not on Colombian territory when they were taken, a Venezuelan national guard general insisted.

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