Colombia seeks OAS action in Venezuela rebels dispute

CARACAS, (Reuters) – Colombia asked the  Organization of American States yesterday to deal with its  complaint that neighbor Venezuela tolerated the presence of  Colombian leftist rebels, after Caracas recalled its ambassador to Bogota in protest at the charges.

The diplomatic moves signaled an escalating dispute between  the two Andean neighbours before the Aug. 7 inauguration of  Colombia’s newly elected president, Juan Manuel Santos.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s government accused  outgoing Colombian President Alvaro Uribe of seeking to wreck  moves to repair relations between the two countries, which have  often been strained over security and border issues.

“As these steps (for improved relations) are going ahead,  Uribe’s government has decided … to dynamite the  rapprochement,” Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro told  a news conference in Caracas, adding that Caracas was recalling  its Bogota ambassador for consultations.

Colombia said on Thursday it had proof backing its  accusations that members of Colombian guerrilla groups like the  Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, FARC, and National  Liberation Army, ELN, are hiding in the jungle on Venezuela’s  side of the border.

Following up on its accusation, Colombia’s presidency on  Friday requested that the OAS hold an extraordinary meeting of  its permanent council to deal with the alleged presence of the  rebels in Venezuela.

The meeting should be held “at the earliest possible  opportunity”, a presidency spokesman said in Bogota.

Rejecting the Colombian charges as “an old broken record,”  Chavez called Uribe a “mafioso … full of hatred.”

“We’re not going to be provoked,” Chavez said, adding he  would give Santos a chance to act on his declared intentions of  improving Colombian relations with Venezuela.

“I’m waiting to see,” Chavez said in a broadcast.

Venezuela would study what “political and diplomatic  measures” to take in response to what it called Colombia’s  “aggression” and these would be announced in due course,  Foreign Minister Maduro said.

Colombia said in the last six years it had repeatedly given  the Venezuelan government information about the alleged  presence of the rebels on Venezuelan soil, but Caracas had  failed to react.

In 2008, Bogota released information gleaned from computers  taken from a FARC camp that it said showed Chavez had backed  the guerrillas financially. Chavez denied the charges.

Maduro said Venezuela’s security forces had followed up  information given by Colombia about suspected rebel camps. He  said the tip-offs had never proved to be correct.

‘ABSOLUTE RESPECT’

The latest Colombian charges piled more strain on relations  already been damaged by a deal letting U.S. forces use  Colombian military bases for anti-drug operations.

Chavez, whose socialist rhetoric and polices have made him  an anti-U.S. and anti-capitalist standard-bearer in Latin  America and the world, said the deal could herald a U.S.  invasion of his OPEC nation.

Maduro, declaring he hoped Santos would act quickly to  correct Uribe’s policies, said Venezuela demanded “absolute  respect” for its sovereignty, institutions and head of state.

In a statement earlier on Friday, the Venezuelan government  said the U.S. Embassy in Bogota had been involved in the  announcement by the Colombian Defense Ministry on Thursday, and  accused it of “intrigue.”

Colombia’s decades-old guerrilla war often spills into  neighboring countries. Two years ago, Colombian forces attacked  a FARC camp in Ecuador, killing a top rebel leader. Ecuador and Venezuela broke diplomatic ties with Colombia  over the raid and relations have yet to be fully restored.

Maduro said Venezuela had for years sheltered refugees from  Colombia’s conflict and that the war should be solved through  peace talks rather than through military force.

Chavez denies allegations he supports any guerrilla groups,  and says such charges are part of a Washington-led plan to  discredit him and his socialist “revolution.”

He does not consider the FARC to be a terrorist group and  says he cannot take sides in Colombia’s internal conflict.

Chavez ordered a slowdown of trade between Venezuela and  Colombia last year after Bogota let U.S. forces use Colombian  military bases. Annual trade had totaled some $7 billion, and  the cutoff exacerbated shortages and fueled high inflation in  Venezuela, while slowing Colombia’s economic recovery.

Colombia is the main U.S. military ally in South America  and has received billions of dollars in U.S. aid to help fight  the FARC and ELN, which are funded by kidnapping, extortion and  cocaine smuggling.

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