Colombia accuses Chávez of funding Marxist rebels

War of words escalates after Venezuela sends tanks and troops to the border

Venezuela and Colombia were locked in a tense stand-off yesterday, with explosive accusations levelled against Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez a day after he ordered tanks and troops to the border.

There was no sign of imminent conflict but the war of words escalated when Colombia accused Chávez of bankrolling the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc), Marxist rebels categorised around the world as terrorists.

Colombia's police commander, General Oscar Naranjo, told a media conference that Bogotá had evidence that Chávez paid $300m (£151m) to the organisation, an allegation which complicated efforts to cool a serious regional crisis.

Colombia triggered the dispute last Saturday by bombing a Farc camp a mile inside Ecuador, killing 17 rebels, including Raúl Reyes, a senior commander. In response, Ecuador and Venezuela yesterday severed diplomatic ties. Quito sent 3,200 troops to its border and Chávez, from the other end of the Andes, ordered the mobilisation of 10 armoured battalions and warplanes to deter what he called Colombian aggression.

Bogotá said the situation was under control and it would not match the mobilisations. But it dropped a bombshell by claiming that laptops belonging to Reyes that were recovered from the Farc camp showed Chávez had funded the guerrillas. The laptops also purportedly showed that Farc had given money to Chávez in the mid-1990s.

The leftist affinity between them is no secret, but if proved the allegation potentially makes him a sponsor of terrorism. Venezuela's vice-president, Ramón Carrizalez, rejected Colombia's claims.

Farc, which has been waging a decades-long insurgency against the Colombian state, is thought to fund its 11,000-strong armed force through drugs and kidnapping.

Chávez warned that a similar anti-guerrilla operation in Venezuela would lead to war and called Colombia a terrorist state bankrolled by US imperialism.

Brazil, Chile, Italy and Cuba, among others, condemned the incursion into Ecuador. Colombia apologised to Ecuador but sought to justify the raid by saying it had found evidence of collaboration between Ecuador's government and Farc.

Naranjo, said the recovered laptops showed contacts between Reyes, the dead rebel, and Ecuador's security minister, Gustavo Larrea. Ecuador denied any political relations with Farc and questioned the documents' veracity, calling them a smokescreen for Colombia's territorial violation.


Rory Carroll in Caracas and Sibylla Brodzinsky in Bogotá

The GuardianTramp

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