Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela reconcile at Rio Group summit

March 8th, 2008 - 11:45 am ICT by admin  

(Lead)

Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic), March 8 (IANS) Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa has agreed to accept apologies from his Colombian counterpart Alvaro Uribe and put an end to the crisis that began with Colombia’s March 1 attack on a leftist rebel camp in Ecuador. After a week of rising tensions the two leaders along with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez agreed to set aside their differences Friday in a surprising turn of events at the end of the Rio Group summit in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, Spain’s EFE news agency reported.

Attendees at the summit of the 20-member group burst into applause when the three men shook hands to seal an accord brokered by the host of the gathering Dominican President Leonel Fernandez.

Colombian forces raided on a camp of the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) March 1, which killed 24 guerrillas, 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.

Nicaragua, which was at odds with Colombia over maritime boundaries, also pitched in and announced severing ties with Uribe’s government.

In the summit, the Colombian president offered an unqualified apology for last weekend’s cross-border raid and promised that it would not be repeated. He also said that his government would verify the documents on the basis of which Bogota said the rebels have nexus with Ecuadorians.

Earlier in the day, reconciliation did not seem likely as both Uribe and Correa exchanged barbs at each other.

Uribe emphasized that Colombia acted in the face of attacks mounted by FARC from bases in Ecuador. He also said that the FARC helped finance Correa’s 2006 election campaign in Ecuador.

Regarding Reyes, the Colombian leader said the dead guerrilla was facing 121 indictments and had already been convicted in absentia 14 times for offences such as murder and rebellion.

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.

Chavez, during the course of a long, rambling speech that followed the exchange between Uribe and Correa, said he had received proof of life for several of the 40 high-value captives the FARC has been trying to trade for hundreds of jailed guerrillas.

He used the platform to call for the revival of the efforts for a prisoners swap between the FARC and Colombian government.

At the same time, Chavez said he had told FARC representatives that their aspirations for a military triumph “are not viable, unless they want (Colombians) to spend 100 years killing each other”.

There were no reports of any talks on the sidelines of the summit among the Andean leaders.

FARC, founded in 1964, is the largest rebel group in Colombia with some 10,000 fighters. It has been waging a guerrilla 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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