Colombia says has proof rebels hiding in Venezuela

BOGOTA (Reuters) – Colombia has proof leaders of outlawed rebel groups are hiding in neighboring Venezuela, the government said yesterday in a statement likely to further strain already tense relations between the Andean countries.

Colombian officials have long suspected members of guerrilla armies like the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and National Liberation Army (ELN) are based in the jungles on Venezuela’s side of the border.

Thursday marked the first public assertion of proof, and was sure to heighten political tensions that have choked off more than $7 billion in cross-border trade in recent months.

“The government has evidence showing the presence in Venezuela of leaders of the FARC … and the terrorist group ELN,” the statement said. “In the next few hours, the minister of defense will present the documentation.”

Among the rebels Colombia says are hiding in Venezuela is Ivan Marquez, a member of the FARC’s seven-man secretariat.

Two years ago, Colombian forces attacked a FARC camp in neighboring Ecuador, killing a rebel leader. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez sent tanks to his border with Colombia, raising fears of war.

Ecuador and Venezuela broke diplomatic ties with Colombia over the raid, and relations have yet to be fully restored.

The socialist Chavez clamped down on bilateral trade last year after Bogota allowed Washington to use Colombian military bases for anti-drugs operations. Chavez said the move could set the stage for a US invasion of his oil rich nation.

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