Venezuela sends troops to Colombian border, closes embassy

March 3rd, 2008 - 8:00 am ICT by admin  

Caracas, March 3 (DPA) Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has sent 10 battalions of troops to the country’s border with Colombia and closed its embassy in Bogota to protest the killing of a high-ranking leftist rebel by Colombian troops inside Ecuador. The Colombian government said Saturday that Raul Reyes, the second-in-command of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), had been killed along with 16 other rebels in an air raid into Ecuador.

Chavez said Sunday that the action could be the “beginning of a war in South America” and ordered the military, including tanks and aircraft, to the border area.

“We don’t want war, but we will never allow the Imperium (as he refers to the US) or its lapdog to weaken us,” Chavez warned, calling Colombian President Alvaro Uribe “a criminal” that rules his country with “a band of criminals”.

Uribe has denied violating Ecuador’s sovereignty with the attack, arguing it was a necessary act of self defence. The government has said it fired the rockets from Colombian airspace into FARC camps just inside Ecuador. Ground troops then crossed the border to retrieve Reyes’ body.

But Gustavo Larrea, Ecuador’s security minister, said, “With its infiltration of our territory, Colombia has committed one of the worst attacks on our sovereignty in years.”

Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa also recalled his ambassador to Colombia for consultations about the “incredibly difficult” situation.

Reyes was second only to FARC chief Manuel Marulanda, and was the group’s spokesman. He headed unsuccessful peace negotiations with Andres Pastrana’s government in 2002.

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