Chavez Warns of War with Colombia

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Following the alleged killing of a rebel leader by Colombian operatives in Ecuador, both Ecuador and Venezuela mobilized their military forces and have deployed them to their respective borders with Colombia.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Sunday responded by closing the Venezuela's embassy in Bogota. He also promised his country would respond with its military should Colombia violate the border.

Chavez called the killing of rebel leader and spokesman Raul Reyes and 16 other rebels on Saturday an attack by a "terrorist state."

"Mr. Defense Minister, move ten battalions to the border with Colombia for me, immediately - tank battalions. Deploy the air force," Chavez said during his weekly TV and radio program. "We don't want war, but we aren't going to permit the U.S. empire, which is the master. to come divide us."

"This could be the start of a war in South America," Chavez said. He warned Uribe: "If it occurs to you to do this in Venezuela, President Uribe, I'll send some Sukhois" - Russian warplanes recently bought by Venezuela.

In turn, Ecuador's president Rafael Correa also ordered troops be deployed. He also ordered his government's ambassador from Bogota to return home. Correa also expelled Colombia's ambassador for the time being.

"There is no justification," Correa said Sunday night. Colombia's earlier announced that it would apologize for the incursion into Ecuadorian territory.

Correa said Colombia deliberately carried out the strike beyond its borders. He said the rebels were "bombed and massacred as they slept, using precision technology."

The Ecuadorean leader said Colombia violated Ecuador's airspace when it bombed the rebel camp. The Colombian military said the camp was located 1.1 miles from the border.

Safe Harbor?

Colombia has constantly complained that Ecuador does not control its border. This allows rebels to take refuge in the sparsely-populated region.

Likewise, rebel deserters say the guerrillas routinely rest, train, obtain medical care and smuggle drugs into Venezuela. Chavez denies that his country provides refuge to the FARC.

In a statement, Colombia said FARC "terrorists" including Reyes "have had the custom of killing in Colombia and taking refuge in the territory of neighboring countries."

Colombia's police commander Gen. Oscar Naranjo said documents from a computer seized where Reyes was killed suggested Ecuador's president is deepening relations with the FARC.

The two documents, copies of which were obtained independently by The Associated Press, were apparently written by Reyes in the past two months and addressed to the high command of the FARC. An Ecuadorean government spokesman called the Colombian claims a lie.

Even with the present tension between Venezuela and Colombia, cross-border trade has not yet been seriously affected.

"Undoubtedly the recent actions on the part of Colombia and Venezuela's response raise the risk for armed conflict," said Miguel Tinker Salas, a Latin American studies professor at Pomona College in Claremont, California. "Although it is unlikely we will see military confrontations, what is clear is that Colombia has been pursuing a military solution to its own internal problem,. drawing in Ecuador and Venezuela."

Chavez said that with U.S. support, Colombian troops "invaded Ecuador, flagrantly violating Ecuador's sovereignty."

U.S Embassy spokeswoman Suzanne Hall, in Bogota, declined comment on the possibility of U.S. involvement, saying it was a Colombian government operation.

Source: The Associated Press

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