Colombia taking Venezuela rebel accusation to OAS

BOGOTA (Reuters) – Colombia has called a special meeting of the Organization of American States to complain formally that Venezuela allows leftist rebels to use its territory as a safe haven, the government said yesterday.

The extraordinary meeting of the OAS permanent council is set for Thursday, when Colombian and Venezuelan officials will present their arguments to the regional body.

“Colombia has the right to denounce in front of the international community the presence of guerrillas in Venezuela,” Colombian Interior Minister Fabio Valencia said.

Colombia said on Thursday it had proof that commanders of guerrilla groups like the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, are hiding in the jungle on Venezuela’s side of the border and planning attacks from there.

Venezuela denies that it has a permissive attitude toward the guerrillas and accuses outgoing Colombian President Alvaro Uribe of provoking a diplomatic crisis in the days before he leaves office. President-elect Juan Manuel Santos, a former defence and finance minister, is to be sworn in as Colombia’s new head of state on August 7.

Venezuela last year suspended trade with Colombia over political differences, choking off $7 billion in bilateral commerce. Leftist Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez is holding out hope that relations might improve once Colombia has a new president.

“This is your first test, Mr Santos. Let’s see if you distance yourself from Uribe’s aggression against Venezuela,” Chavez said.

Santos is calling for dialogue with Venezuela over the charges made by Uribe’s government that the neighbouring country “tolerates” rebels in its territory.

The issue appears to have caused a rift between Santos and Uribe, who is seen laying a diplomatic minefield for the incoming leader by making the charges public rather than taking the matter up privately with Chavez’s government.

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