Venezuelan military warns Colombia against attack

CARACAS, (Reuters) – Venezuela’s army warned  neighbour Colombia yesterday it was ready to repel any attacks a  day after President Hugo Chavez cut ties over Bogota’s charges  that Venezuela was harboring leftist Colombian guerrillas.

Socialist Chavez’s severing of diplomatic relations has  ratcheted up tensions between OPEC member Venezuela, a major  supplier of oil to the United States, and U.S. ally Colombia.  Their volatile Andean region has long been plagued by marauding  guerrilla armies and drug-trafficking gangs.

But while Venezuelan leaders heaped invective on outgoing  Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, calling him a “warmonger,”  Venezuelan Vice President Elias Jaua said, “The situation on  the frontier is normal.”

Despite the break-off in ties, the main crossing point  between San Antonio del Tachira in Venezuela and Cucuta in  Colombia was open yesterday and vehicles and pedestrians were  crossing, witnesses said. There was no sign of any immediate  military build-up, although searches at road blocks on the  Venezuelan side seemed to have been stepped up.

Most analysts believe a military clash is unlikely, but  Colombia and Venezuela are among the most militarized nations  in South America and have sparred and squabbled in the past  over border security and guerrillas.
Venezuelan Defense Minister General Carlos Mata appeared on  television, in military fatigues and flanked by top commanders,  to declare loyalty to Chavez and to sternly warn Uribe.

Uribe, who will be replaced by President-elect Juan Manuel  Santos on Aug. 7, has ramped up accusations that Chavez’s  government gives free rein to left-wing guerrillas in  Venezuelan territory.

Mata, echoing Chavez’s words, rejected what he called  Colombia’s “aggression.” Venezuela has dismissed as lies the  charges by Colombia, which presented photos, videos and maps to  the Organization of American States to back its allegations  about the rebels’ presence.

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