Monday, March 3, 2008

Anger Builds Over Colombian Raid

Anger Builds Over Colombian Raid

By Chris Kraul

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Ecuador, saying it was lied to about slaying, sends troops to border. Bogota alleges rebels and Ecuadoreans met.

Bogota, Colombia - Ecuador and Venezuela said Sunday that they were moving thousands of troops to Colombia's borders, a day after Colombian forces killed a leftist rebel leader in Ecuadorean territory. Bogota later charged that high officials in Ecuador met recently with the slain rebel, Raul Reyes, to accommodate the guerrillas' presence there.

The developments raised tensions in a region that has been on edge in the several months since Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez had a bitter falling-out. Reyes, the nom de guerre of Luis Edgar Devia Silva, was the second-ranking commander of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

At a news conference late Sunday, Colombian National Police director Oscar Naranjo said that files in three laptop computers recovered in a jungle camp a mile inside Ecuador, where Reyes' body was found, show that the rebel met Jan. 18 and Jan. 28 with Ecuadorean Interior Minister Gustavo Larrea to discuss several issues, including stationing army and police officers "who were not hostile to the FARC."

Naranjo also said documents show that Larrea and Reyes discussed a meeting between Reyes and President Rafael Correa in which Reyes' "secure transport" would be guaranteed.

"The questions posed by these documents merit a response from the Ecuadorean government," Naranjo said.

In a nationwide address late Sunday, Correa rejected Colombia's apology for the incursion and said Uribe lied when he told him Saturday that Reyes and 16 other FARC rebels were killed in hot pursuit.

"They were massacred," Correa said.

The FARC, Colombia's largest rebel group, has been locked in a 40-year war with that nation's government. It holds 700 hostages, a source of outrage in Colombia.

Earlier Sunday, Ecuador said it was moving additional troops to defend its northeastern border with Colombia, expelled Colombia's ambassador and recalled its own ambassador to Bogota. Saturday's killing of Reyes was a "violation of the territorial integrity and legal system of Ecuador," a Foreign Ministry statement said.

Meanwhile, leftist Venezuelan President Chavez said he was sending 10 tank divisions and 10,000 troops to his country's border with Colombia and mobilizing fighter jets against a possible incursion.

"God save us from war," Chavez said in his weekly television address Sunday, after observing a moment of silence for Reyes. But, he said, Colombia would not be allowed to "violate our sovereignty."

The FARC has always used the lightly patrolled jungle border areas of Ecuador and Venezuela to regroup and resupply. But aggressive military action ordered by Uribe in recent years has driven rebels over the borders in greater numbers, analysts say.

The Colombian army killed Reyes in a mission that Colombia's Defense Ministry said began on its side of the Putumayo River but ended about a mile inside Ecuador.

Experts in Venezuela and Colombia believe Chavez to be tolerant, even accommodating, of the Marxist FARC rebels, for whom he frequently expresses admiration. The FARC this year has released six of the hundreds of hostages it holds to Chavez representatives in Colombia.

But Ecuadorean President Correa is said by Colombian and U.S. officials to be concerned about the growing presence of rebels and the violence and drug trafficking they have brought with them. Reyes was thought to have lived in a semi-permanent camp on the Ecuadorean side of the border to escape the Colombian military's reach.

On Saturday, Correa's response to the Colombian incursion was muted. He lamented the loss of life and acknowledged that FARC rebels often "infiltrate" Ecuador, but said nothing critical of Colombia. On Sunday, however, Correa's government took a harder line, demanding an explanation and apology.

Cesar Montufar, a political scientist at Simon Bolivar Andean University in Quito, Ecuador, said Correa may be "ceding to Chavez's pressure."

What makes Sunday night's announcement surprising is that U.S. and Colombian officials recently had praised Correa's cooperation with Colombia in the war against drugs and for improving relations with the United States.

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