Colombia, Ecuador in bitter clash at Latin American summit

March 8th, 2008 - 6:28 am ICT by admin  

Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic), March 8 (DPA) Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has apologized for the weekend airstrike against rebels in Ecuador, but in his speech to a summit of Latin American leaders he insisted that his country has the right to protect itself. The March 1 attack on a camp of the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) left 24 guerillas dead, including the groups’ second-in-command Raul Reyes. The strike was criticized across the region and led Ecuador, Venezuela and Nicaragua to break diplomatic ties with Bogota.

In a speech to leaders attending the Rio Group of Latin American countries in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, Friday Uribe emphasized that Colombia acted in the face of attacks mounted by FARC from bases in Ecuador.

“I cannot allow these facts to be presented as a massacre against some archangels who were asleep in their pyjamas,” Uribe said of the raid.

He detailed alleged ties between FARC and Ecuadorian authorities that he said came from computers captured in the rebel encampment. Uribe acknowledged Ecuador’s insistence on maintaining its territorial sovereignty.

“I do not hear talk about the sovereignty of the Colombian people. There is a violation of sovereignty when, from another country, a terrorist group shoots at neighbouring citizens,” he said.

Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa charged that Uribe has “lied so much and so often” as to lack all credibility.

“My Dominican friends, be very careful. If President Uribe thinks there is another Raul Reyes in Santo Domingo, he comes and bombs you. If he finds a computer, he will even say that you are guilty for the bombing,” Correa said.

Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner stressed that Colombia must abide by international law even while exercising the right to take action to preserve its own security.

“Let us never step aside from legality,” she said.

Earlier, Uribe was conspicuously absent from the group photograph of all the presidents gathered at the summit. The heads of state posed together after Dominican Republic President Leonel Fernandez declared the meeting open.

There had been hopes that the summit - the first chance for Uribe, Correa and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to meet since Colombia’s cross-border airstrike - would help defuse the tensions. However, there were no reports of any talks on the sidelines of the summit among the Andean leaders.

Correa repeated Ecuador’s demand that the summit condemn Colombia’s action.

FARC, founded in 1964, is the largest rebel group in Colombia with some 10,000 fighters. It has been waging a guerilla war in Colombia for more than 40 years and is currently believed to be holding more than 700 hostages, including former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt.

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