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Chavez sends troops and tanks to Colombian border

Monday, March 3rd 2008 - 21:00 UTC
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Chavez warns of war with Colombia Chavez warns of war with Colombia

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez ordered on Sunday the militarization of the border with Colombia and the closing of Venezuela's embassy in Bogotá a day after Colombian troops in an incursion in Ecuadorian territory killed FARC rebel group number 2, an action he described as a “cowardly murder”.

Ecuador also called back its ambassador in Colombia saying that Saturday's military action had been a "flagrant transgression of the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity". Speaking on his weekly television show "Aló Presidente" Chavez said the killing of Raul Reyes, --a top commander and spokesperson for the FARC rebel group--, and "a good revolutionary" was a cowardly murder that had been "coldly calculated". He then addressed his Defence minister, asking him to "move 10 battalions and tanks to the border with Colombia for me, immediately" a deployment likely to involve several thousand soldiers. He also ordered the Venezuelan embassy in Bogota closed and said all embassy personnel would be withdrawn. He insisted Colombia had invaded Ecuador "violating Ecuador's sovereignty". Mr Chavez had earlier warned Bogota that any incursion into Venezuelan territory similar to Saturday's operation would be a "cause for war". On Saturday Colombian Defence minister Juan Manuel Santos described the death of Reyes as the "biggest blow so far" to FARC. Apparently the camp where Reyes and 16 other FARC guerrillas were killed was 1.8 kilometers inside Ecuador. Colombia bombed by air and attacked with ground troops. Ecuador's President Rafael Correa has complained to the Colombian government about its incursion, calling it "scandalous", and a formal protest has now been lodged with Bogota. In his program Chavez called Colombia's president Alvaro Uribe a "murderer", "Mafioso", "narco-dealer, "para-military" and "I'm also reminding you, Mr. Uribe that Venezuela is Colombia's main trade partner". He accused Uribe of turning Colombia into a "terrorist state" which he compared with Israel and described the Colombian government as a lackey of United States. Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa, who was informed on Saturday of the incoming incursion by Colombian President Uribe called him a "liar" for not having given him a full detail of what really was happening in the jungle covered border area. Venezuelan and Ecuadorian versions of Saturday's attack differ from the breaking news announced by Colombia on Saturday. Allegedly FARC members at the camp (inside Ecuador) were resting when they were ("cowardly") attacked, according to Venezuela and Ecuador. Colombia revealed that the camp was detected when Reyes talked on his satellite cellular and confirmed by "ground intelligence". Aircraft bombed the camp, shrapnel wounded Reyes in the leg and he was being rescued by four body guards when Colombian special forces killed all of them in spite of orders to capture the FARC leader alive. "There was no combat, it was a cowardly murder, it was all coldly planned, truth is coming out", said Chavez. "We're in top alert, Venezuela is in alert and we'll support Ecuador in any circumstance", he added. Chavez ended his Sunday program with a controversial tribute to the dead guerrilla leader. "We are honoring a true revolutionary, such was Raul Reyes", adding that the only people celebrating the murder was "the Colombian oligarchy". He then called for a minute of silence in honor to Reyes on request from one of the participants of his radio and television program. Meantime the Colombian government in an official release said that it had "not violated" Ecuador's sovereignty when the killing of FARC number 2 Raul Reyes, adding that it had acted on the principle of "legitimate defense". "Terrorists, among them Raul Reyes, are accustomed to commit murders inside Colombia and invade the territory of neighboring countries to take refuge. Many times Colombia has suffered these situations which we are mandated to avoid in defense of our citizens", said the Foreign Affairs ministry release. Colombia also ordered a massive display of security in advance of possible reprisals from FARC. "All possible measures have been taken", said Interior and Justice Minister Carlos Holguín, but admitting that "we can't blip eyes not even once". "The snake is still alive and this snake attacks violently with cruelty and from the back at any moment", added Holguin in reference to FARC. But in spite of the war drums and the tightening of security in Bogota and Colombia's main cities, FARC announced in its website that the killing of Reyes should not influence the search for a humanitarian accord for the release of hostages. "We invite revolutionary determination not to claudicate in efforts towards the humanitarian exchange, to continue our purpose of peace and the building (in Colombia) of an effective democracy with social justice", said the FARC release. "This is the best tribute to all comrades fallen in combat". There were fears that following the death of Reyes and ideologue Julian Conrado plus fifteen other FARC members the guerrilla group could decide to stop all humanitarian efforts for the release of hostages, particularly Ingrid Betancourt, a former Colombian presidential candidate, kidnapped six years ago and known to be in extremely poor health. A massive world campaign involving leaders from Latinamerica and Europe have turned Ms Betancourt's health condition into an extremely vulnerable situation for FARC's revolutionary standing, if something should happen to her.

Categories: Politics, Latin America.

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