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Sunday, March 2, 2008

Chavez orders troops to Colombia border

(CNN) -- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Sunday ordered 10 battalions of military forces to the country's border with Colombia, and ordered the closure of Venezuela's embassy in Colombia's capital city of Bogotá.

Chavez made the moves in reaction to an operation carried out at dawn Saturday by Colombia's national police and its air force in Ecuador, which resulted in the death of the second-in-command of the FARC rebels group, Luis Edgar Devia Silva, known as "Raul Reyes."

FARC is the Spanish acronym for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. The Marxist group has been trying for some 40 years to overthrow the Colombian government and is estimated to be holding 750 hostages in the jungles of Colombian.

In the past two months, Chavez has brokered FARC's release of six of them. Reyes, who was a member of the seven-man FARC leadership council known as the general secretariat, played a key mediation role in their release.

Also killed was Guillermo Enrique Torres or "Julian Conrado," who was a key FARC ideologue.

"The Colombian oligarchy says it was combat," said Chavez, whose leftist politics have been credited for his warm relations with the rebel group. "It was not combat. It was a cowardly murder, coldly prepared in its entirety. The truth is coming out.

"I put Venezuela on alert, and we will support Ecuador in any circumstance," Chavez said Sunday on his weekly talk show "Alo Presidente," or "Hello, President."

"We don't want war, but we will not allow the North American empire -- which is the master -- and its sub-President [Alvaro] Uribe and the Colombian oligarchy to divide, to weaken us. We will not allow it."

Chavez said Saturday that the Colombian government had violated Ecuador's sovereignty and added that, had the operation been conducted on Venezuelan soil, he would have declared war against Colombia.

"Colombia's government recognizes -- in a happy and irresponsible attitude -- that it has violated the sovereignty of a neighbor country, and that's worrisome," he said.

"President Uribe, think well. Don't think about doing that over here, don't think it. Because it would very serious, a military raid in Venezuelan territory would be casus belli [cause for war]. There is not any excuse."

Also on Saturday, Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa told reporters in Quito that Uribe told him the raid occurred after a FARC column fled across the border and fired at Colombian forces, who "had to defend themselves."

But Correa said his forces investigated Uribe's claims and discovered that the Colombian planes attacked the guerrillas as they slept in a camp 2 km ( 1.2 mi) inside Ecuador.

"Of course Ecuadoran air space was invaded," he said.

He said Colombian ground forces then crossed into Ecuador and retrieved Reyes' body, leaving the others.

"We will not permit this outrage," he said. "Either President Uribe was misinformed and will have to sanction his commanders who deceived him, breaking every international bilateral proceeding by entering our territory or Uribe simply lied. In either case, the situation is extremely grave and the Ecuadoran government is disposed to go to the ultimate consequences."

Chavez called Uribe a "liar," a "criminal" and a "gangster."

"Colombia is a terrorist state, a subject of the biggest terrorist in the world, the United States government, and all of its imperialist apparatus," Chavez said to applause.

Colombian Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos denied that Colombia violated Ecuadoran airspace in the operation..

The White House said Sunday it was "monitoring the situation."

"This is an odd reaction by Venezuela to Colombia's efforts against the FARC, a terrorist organization that continues to hold Colombians, Americans and others hostage," spokesman Gordon Johndroe said.

FARC has justified hostage-taking as a legitimate military tactic in a long-running and complex civil war that also has involved right-wing paramilitaries, government forces and drug traffickers.

Picture of Chavez is old, the rest are pictures of current troop movements.

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