Tensions escalate after Venezuelan border closed

A CRISIS between three Latin American nations worsened yesterday when Venezuela said it was closing its border with Colombia, as diplomatic talks to stave off war were about to begin.

Venezuelan Agriculture Minister Elia Jaua said: “We have taken some measures, like closing the border.”.

The announcement aggravated a stand-off between Colombia and left-wing neighbours, Venezuela and Ecuador, triggered by a Colombian raid inside Ecuador to kill a senior FARC rebel commander.

An emergency session of the 34-member Organisation of American States was to take place in Washington later yesterday in a bid to quell tensions.

There are fears an escalation of the dispute between Bogota, the US’s main ally in South America, and the two other nations could engulf the region. Venezuela and Ecuador have ordered thousands of troops to their borders with Colombia, and ordered Bogota’s ambassadors out of their countries.

Colombia initially apologised to Ecuador for the pre-dawn Sunday raid on the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia camp that killed Raul Reyes, considered the number two leader of the Marxistinsurgency. But it said the attack was justified, and claimed documents recovered from rebel laptops proved the FARC had links with Quito and Caracas and had “transnational terrorist ambitions”.

Ecuador has rejected the allegations, and severed diplomatic relations with Bogota over the “succession of events and unfriendly accusations”.

Ecuarian President Rafael Correa was to visit Brazil later yesterday to drum up support. He was also to visit Peru, Venezuela, Panama and the Dominican Republic.

Venezuela has denied Bogota’s allegations, which included a charge that President Hugo Chavez paid the FARC $300 million (€197m). But Colombian President Alvaro Uribe said his country was going to ask the International Criminal Court to try Mr Chavez for “sponsoring and financing genocide” by allegedly providing the money.

Colombia has said its raid on the rebel camp was an “autonomous operation”, but admitted US intelligence was crucial.

Since 2000, Washington has supplied Bogota with $5 billion under Plan Colombia, ostensibly to fight drug trafficking. Much of this has gone to combating the FARC.

Cuba’s former leader Fidel Castro accused the US of complicity in the “monstrous crime” in Ecuador. “They were Yankee bombs guided by Yankee satellites,” he wrote.

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