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Colombia: Chavez funding FARC rebels
By TOBY MUSE, Associated Press Writer
9 minutes ago


Venezuela and Ecuador sought Monday to make Colombia pay a high price for killing a leftist rebel leader in the Ecuadorean jungle — expelling its diplomats, ordering troops to the border and cracking down on trade across the border.

But Colombia quickly struck back, revealing what it said were incriminating documents seized from the rebel camp that suggest its neighbors have been secretly supporting the leftist rebels' deadly insurgency.

And in a tit-for-tat move, Venezuela later displayed the laptop of a slain drug trafficker, which it said contained information implicating Colombia's national police chief in the cocaine trade.

Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa piled on the pressure saying Colombia's killing of the rebel leader Raul Reyes Saturday had scuttled talks between his government and the guerrillas to free 12 rebel-held hostages, including French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt and three U.S. defense contractors.

"I'm sorry to tell you that the conversation were pretty advanced to free 12 hostages, including Ingrid Betancourt, in Ecuador," said Correa in a televised address. "All of this was frustrated by the war-mongering, authoritarian hands" of the Colombian government.

Colombia's national police chief stood by its attack that killed Reyes, and said that documents recovered from his laptop showed Venezuela's leftist government recently paid $300 million to the rebels, among other financial and political ties that date back years, and that high-level meetings have been held between rebels and Ecuadorean officials.

And this shocker: Colombia says some documents suggest the rebels have bought and sold uranium.

"When they mention negotiations for 50 kilos of uranium this means that the FARC are taking big steps in the world of terrorism to become a global aggressor. We're not talking of domestic guerrilla but transnational terrorism," Gen. Oscar Naranjo said at an explosive news conference.

Naranjo didn't give any details on when, where or from whom the uranium was allegedly bought. He provided no proof of the payment and wouldn't release copies of the documents, which he said are "tremendously revelatory" and are being examined with the help of U.S. experts.

Both Venezuela and Ecuador dismissed his allegations as lies. They expelled Colombia's top diplomats and recalled their own. Correa planned to visit five Latin American countries starting Tuesday to defend his decision to break off diplomatic relations, accusing Colombia of being an enemy of peace and lying about the nature of the raid.

Colombia said military commandos, tracking Reyes through an informant, were fired upon from Ecuadorean territory. But Correa said Colombia deliberately carried out the strike beyond its borders, and that the rebels were "bombed and massacred as they slept, using precision technology."

Both Venezuela and Ecuador also began reinforcing their borders, mobilizing troops and tanks as Chavez warned that another Colombian attack could spark a wider South American war.

Venezuelan National Guard troops and customs authorities suspended new imports and exports at the busiest border crossings. One Colombian police commander, Col. Ivan Florez, told the AP that all vehicles with Colombian license plates were being turned away from a key border crossing.

Maintaining trade with Colombia, essential to Venezuela's economy, is one of many factors weighing against outright war. But the bellicose rhetoric has worried Latin American leaders. The presidents of Chile, Mexico and Brazil offered to mediate, and an emergency session of the Organization of American States was scheduled for Tuesday in Washington.

State Department spokesman Tom Casey said the United States supports Colombia's right to defend itself against the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, and called for dialogue.

Colombian officials have long complained that rebels take refuge in Ecuador and Venezuela. But Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos said Monday that his government isn't moving any troops and "we have the situation under control."

The rebels, who have been fighting for more than four decades for a more equitable distribution of wealth in Colombia, fund themselves largely through the cocaine trade, while holding hundreds of kidnapped hostages for ransom and political ends. The drug trafficking and kidnappings haven't helped their reputation, which is why both Correa and Chavez have denied supporting them.

Killed in the bombing were Reyes, the FARC's top spokesman, and 20 other guerrillas. Ecuador recovered 19 bodies and three wounded female rebels, including a Mexican philosophy student. By then, Colombian soldiers had already carried out the cadavers of Reyes and another rebel, along with three laptops containing the sensitive documents.

Indignant, Chavez said "they wanted to show off the trophy" and called it "cowardly murder, all of it coldly calculated."

"This could be the start of a war in South America," Chavez said.

But Naranjo said laptops show Venezuela's growing responsibility for the conflict.

The $300 million payment was mentioned in a Feb. 14 message in Reyes laptop, along with documents suggesting rebels discussed a possible arms transfer from Venezuela, and revealing close ties between Manuel "Sureshot" Marulanda, the top FARC leader, and Venezuela's government.

He quoted one message from Marulanda to Chavez saying "We will always be ready, in the case of gringo aggression, to provide our modest knowledge in defense of the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela."

"This implies more than cozying up, but an armed alliance between the FARC and the Venezuelan government," Naranjo said.

Naranjo said other documents show deepening ties between the rebels and Correa. Ecuador acknowledged that its internal security minister, Gustavo Larrea, met with a FARC emissary but said the intent was strictly humanitarian — to seek the release of hostages held by the rebel group.

Still another document in Reyes' laptop suggests the rebels sent Chavez money when he was jailed in 1992 for leading a coup attempt, Naranjo said. At the time, he was plotting the comeback that eventually led to his election as president in 1998.

"A note recovered from Raul Reyes speaks of how grateful Chavez was for the 100 million pesos (about US$150,000 at the time) ... delivered to Chavez when he was in prison," Naranjo said, without giving any more details.

Venezuelan late Monday countered by displaying its own seized laptop in Caracas, saying it holds incriminating information tying Naranjo to drug traffickers.

Venezuelan Justice Minister Ramon Rodriguez Chacin said this laptop, belonging to Colombian drug lord Wilber Varela, who was found slain in Venezuela in January, held "important information and notes from the drug traffickers which involve General Oscar Naranjo in drug trafficking."

Rodriguez, who is Chavez's top law enforcement official, said both Naranjo and his brother, who is imprisoned in Germany on drug charges, have links to traffickers.

Associated Press writers Frank Bajak and Vivian Sequera in Bogota; Gabriela Molina and Jeanneth Valdivieso in Quito, Ecuador; Diego Norona in Angostura, Ecuador; and Fabiola Sanchez, Jorge Rueda and Ian James in Caracas contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2008 The Associated Press.
 

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Good FARCing news

Farc leader 'dead' says military
BBC

Marulanda has led the Farc since it was formed 44 years ago
The leader of Colombia's largest rebel group, the Farc, has died, the military has claimed in a statement.

A national news magazine had earlier reported the death of Manuel "Sureshot" Marulanda on 26 March, citing the defence minister, Juan Manuel Santos.

There has been no confirmation from guerrilla sources. The top rebel commander's death has been rumoured and disproved several times in the past.

But correspondents say the death would be a big blow to the Farc if confirmed.

Mr Marulanda, whose real name is Pedro Antonio Marin, has led the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or Farc, since its foundation in 1964.

He is thought to be 78 years old and there have been persistent rumours of ill health, including evidence that suggested he had prostate cancer.
Mr Manuel Santos said reports from guerrillas suggested Mr Marulanda died of a heart attack, although he also told the Semana news magazine that three bombing raids had targeted the rebel chief on the date in question.
The BBC's Jeremy McDermott, in Bogota, says the 44-year-old rebel movement is currently suffering its worst period yet, with two top commanders dead and others surrendered.

If confirmed, the death of Mr Marulanda could lead to more desertions and the eventual break-up of the Farc, our correspondent adds.
 

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Anyone know how many Merkin presidents funded insurgencies within other sovereign nations?
All insurgencies being equal, right?
 

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What's yer point? The shear scale of our complicity, basically everywhere else, overwhelms this rather minor scrap.
Point? What point? I was agreeing with you.

In all instances, aiding any insurgency is wrong, right?

B
 

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Nice dance!
 

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Uribe and Chavez hail 'new era'
BBC

The left-leaning Mr Chavez and pro-US Mr Uribe have made conciliatory noises

President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and his Colombian counterpart Alvaro Uribe say they want to promote closer ties, after months of political tension.
Speaking after a one-day meeting in Venezuela, Mr Chavez said that a new era of co-operation was dawning. For his part, Mr Uribe said the two countries could resolve their disputes. Relations hit their lowest point in March, when Mr Chavez sent troops to the border following a Colombian raid against a rebel camp inside Ecuador.
Analysts say improving links will be of political and economic benefit to both.

Although the two countries are major trading partners, relations have suffered because their two leaders come from opposite ends of the political spectrum.

'Turn the page'
Mr Uribe is a right-winger who is a close ally of the United States, while socialist Mr Chavez regularly denounces Washington and has allied himself with Cuba. We said some harsh things, [but] between brothers these things happen

Latin America's odd couple
The two men also differed sharply over Colombia's Farc rebel group, with Mr Uribe seeking military action against it, while Mr Chavez promoted dialogue with the group. But the freeing of 15 high-profile Farc hostages - including former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt - by the Colombian army last week has strengthened Mr Uribe's position, correspondents say.

Before meeting Mr Uribe in the northern Venezuelan town of Punto Fijo, Hugo Chavez said he would treat his Colombian counterpart as a "brother".
After their talks, Mr Chavez said: "As of now, a new era begins with Colombia.

"We can completely turn the page on a stormy past. We will relaunch our ties, starting on a personal level and then moving on to political, social and economic relations." Colombia is Venezuela's second-largest trading partner after the United States, and enjoys a trade surplus with its neighbour.

Interdependent
At the height of their dispute earlier this year, Bogota accused President Chavez of funding the Farc - the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. Chavez presented Uribe with a portrait of Latin American hero Simon Bolivar
Mr Chavez denies the claims, saying any contact was related to negotiations to secure the release of hostages it was holding. President Chavez has distanced himself from the Farc in recent weeks, calling on them to end their campaign of violence.

The BBC's Jeremy McDermott in Colombia says that despite the political differences between their leaders, the two neighbours need to get on for their mutual political and economic health.

Mr Chavez's position on the Farc was not popular in Venezuela and he wants his supporters to do well in November's elections for the National Assembly, our correspondent says.

Mr Uribe is still basking in international praise since the Colombian army freed Ms Betancourt and 14 other prominent hostages from the guerrillas this month, he adds.
 
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