Colombia denies war launch as Chavez dispatches troops

Bogota claims that Venezuela was harbouring 1,500 leftist Colombian rebels.

Bogota: Colombian President Alvaro Uribe denied on Saturday that he planned to launch a military attack on neighbouring Venezuela, denouncing President Hugo Chavez after Caracas ordered troops to the border.

"Colombia has never thought of attacking the brotherly people of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, as its President has told his country in a clearly deceptive move," Uribe said in a statement read out by his spokesman Cesar Velasquez.

Uribe said Bogota "continues to insist" on the application of international law to ensure Venezuela "complies with its obligation not to harbour Colombian terrorists”.

The current tensions between the countries were sparked by Bogota`s claims that Venezuela was harbouring some 1,500 leftist Colombian rebels, an allegation strongly denied by Caracas.

Chavez on Friday ordered troops to deploy to the border and accused his outgoing Colombian counterpart of being "capable of anything”.

The firebrand leftist broke off diplomatic relations with Colombia on July 22, one week after Uribe levelled the charges at Venezuela.

"We`ve deployed military units, air force, infantry, but quietly because we don`t want to upset anybody, the population," Chavez told state-run VTV television in a telephone interview on Friday. He did not say how many troops and exactly what military materiel was involved in the move.

"This has become a threat of war and we don`t want war," added Chavez, who had also threatened to cut off oil supplies to the United States if it backed an attack by Colombia, its chief ally in the region.

Last Sunday, Chavez cancelled a trip to Cuba, claiming the risk of a Colombian attack had never been greater.

The Colombian Air Force on Friday, meanwhile, said it would set up an air base in Yopal, in eastern Casanares department, to keep an eye over the border area with Venezuela and take on Colombian rebel forces in the region.

The air base will also be tasked with protecting crude oil installations in the region and with "fighting the different drug trafficking groups in that part of the Colombian territory”, the air force statement said.

Uribe and Chavez have often been at loggerheads in the past.

In November, Chavez broke off diplomatic relations over a US-Colombian military base agreement he said was a threat to regional stability.

Bureau Report

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