Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has warned Colombia that a strike against the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces, (FARC), rebel group inside Venezuela like that in Ecuador on Saturday could start a war.
Chavez was speaking after Colombian air and ground forces killed two senior members of the cocaine funded FARC operating just inside Ecuadorian territory. FARC spokesman Raul Reyes died along with at least 16 other rebels, --including ideologue Guillermo Enrique Torres (Julian Conrado)-- and one Colombian soldier, Bogota said. Although Colombian President Alvaro Uribe informed his Ecuadorian counterpart Rafael Correa of the impending attack and clash along the border, of which allegedly at the moment Correa did not reject, Quito has now formally protested to Colombia over the incursion. However from Caracas President Chavez, a close sympathizer of FARC who has been mediating with the Colombian rebel group to secure the release of hostages described the incident as "very serious", almost "war madness". From a televised meeting of his cabinet on Saturday, Chavez warned Colombia about attempting cross-border operations: "President Uribe don't you think about doing that over here because it would be very serious, it would be cause for war," he said. The death of Reyes was described as the "biggest blow so far" to FARC by Colombian Defence Minister Juan Manuel Santos. Reyes was killed in an air raid followed by a ground operation, the minister said. The rebels had been in a camp 1.8km on the Ecuadorian side of the border across from the province of Putumayo when the attack was called in, Mr Santos said. President Alvaro Uribe had earlier thanked Ecuador for its "co-operation", saying that "terrorism" did not respect borders. Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa later reacted saying he wanted clarification of the raid, which Mr Uribe had informed him about. He has now said Ecuador will send a diplomatic note to protest at the "scandalous actions that are an aggression on our territory". "The [Colombian] president either was poorly informed or brazenly lied to the president of Ecuador," Mr Correa said. President Chavez also warned that the armed incursion and killing of FARC' spokesperson who was instrumental in negotiations for the release of hostages was a major blow to such humanitarian efforts. FARC recently freed four of about 40 political captives into the care of Mr Chavez in Venezuela who has been brokering the release. The next possible release involves Colombian-French citizen Ingrid Betancourt, who is known to be seriously ill and for which world leaders have pleaded, particularly French president Nicolas Sarkozy. Reyes, 59, also known as Luis Edgar Devia, is the first member of FARC ruling secretariat to be killed in combat in the group's 44-year history. He was also son in law of the ageing FARC leader Manuel "Sureshot" Marulanda and had frequently been mentioned as a potential successor. Reyes was also seen as one of the more pragmatic, dialogue prone favoring a political solution to the forty year armed rebellion. Colombia's government has received billions of dollars in aid to fight the guerrillas from the US administration which, along with the EU, views FARC as a terrorist organization.