Documents show Chavez gave FARC $300 million, Colombia claims

McClatchy NewspapersMarch 3, 2008 

WASHINGTON — The Organization of American States scheduled an emergency meeting on Tuesday to discuss rising military tensions in South America as a Colombian official charged that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez gave Colombian rebels $300 million.

The newspaper El Tiempo quoted Colombia's police chief, Gen. Oscar Naranjo, as saying that the money transfer from Chavez to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, was detailed in documents on a computer that belonged to a rebel leader killed Saturday in a Colombian raid on a FARC encampment in Ecuador.

The newspaper said the documents also said that the group had given Chavez $50,000 when he was jailed in 1992 after a failed coup attempt.

Chavez ordered troops and tanks to the border with Colombia on Sunday and warned Colombia not to try to strike rebel encampments inside Venezuela, while Ecuador charged that the Colombia raid was illegal.

Colombia fired back on Monday, accusing Venezuela and Ecuador of violating international agreements by harboring the rebels.

Colombian officials said the laptop, which belonged to rebel commander Luis Edgar Devia, also known as Raul Reyes, also contained communications with Ecuador's security minister, Gustavo Larrea.

The communications suggested that Ecuador had agreed to replace its military commanders on its border with Colombia with officers who would be friendlier to the FARC.

The Colombian statement said it was "concerned over the agreements that may exist between the FARC terrorist group and the governments of Ecuador and Venezuela, which violate international agreements that forbid countries to harbor terrorists."

The information will be made available to the OAS and the United Nations, the statement added.

Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa called the Colombian raid illegal, and diplomats said that Ecuador will present a resolution condemning the action at the OAS meeting Tuesday afternoon.

OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza, who has been consulting with heads of states and foreign ministers, said he hoped that the meeting would "provide guidance" to find a peaceful solution to the conflict.

South American diplomats are expected to meet ahead of the OAS meeting in an effort to work out a compromise, said one OAS diplomat, who declined to be quoted by name given the delicate situation.

Leaders from Spain, Brazil, Chile and other Latin American nations are looking for ways to cool the growing uproar.

The 34-member OAS is the hemisphere's main political conflict-resolving institution.

With Venezuela moving troops to its western border with Colombia and Ecuador vowing to bolster the military on its northern border with Colombia, the Colombian government tried to lower the rhetoric. In a statement, it said that it would not increase its military presence along its borders and that its intentions were peaceful.

Speaking on Ecuadorean television, Correa said he had expelled the Colombian ambassador to Quito and initiated an international campaign against Bogota. He said the raid was "the most serious, deceptive and verified aggression that President (Alvaro) Uribe has committed against Ecuador."

Colombia apologized for the raid and initially reached out to Ecuador to explain it. But its position appeared to harden Monday following the harsh reactions of Correa and Chavez.

The Bush administration urged Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador to settle their differences before the OAS.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heide Bronke said that Reyes was "first and foremost a senior leader in a terrorist organization whose stated goal was the violent overthrow of the government of Colombia" and that Washington would continue to support Colombia's efforts to defeat terrorist groups.

"We urge restraint and believe that the OAS is an appropriate venue for the two countries to find a solution," she said.

Some countries believe Colombia owes the world an explanation.

"A situation of this nature without a doubt merits an explanation," said Chilean President Michelle Bachelet. "The most important thing today is that we can avoid an escalation of this conflict."

McClatchy Newspapers 2008

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