US, Colombia seek pretext for `invasion`: Chavez

Venezuelan leader has dismissed charges that he harboured Colombian rebels.

Caracas: Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Friday dismissed Colombian charges that he harboured leftist Colombian rebels as "a hoax" and pretext for a possible US-backed invasion of his oil-producing country.

A day after abruptly severing relations with US ally Colombia over the accusations, the socialist Venezuelan leader condemned the government of outgoing Colombian President Alvaro Uribe as "an instrument of (US) imperialism".

Leftist Chavez`s breaking of ties with Bogota has ratcheted up tensions between OPEC member Venezuela and US-supported Colombia in a volatile Andean region plagued by clashing ideologies, guerrilla armies and drug-trafficking.

Addressing a meeting in Caracas of trade unionists from the Americas, Chavez said the United States was targeting his revolutionary rule over top South American crude producer Venezuela, which remains a leading US oil supplier.

"Now Colombia is a great big Yankee base," he said, referring to a deal last year that allows US forces the use of Colombian military bases, a pact Chavez says poses a direct threat to his country. He survived a brief coup in 2002 and frequently denounces assassination plots he says are hatched by domestic enemies and supported by the US government.

The Venezuelan leader repeated his government`s rejection of photos, videos and maps presented by Colombia to the Organisation of American States to back its charges that Colombian guerrillas operate from camps inside Venezuela.

"All this hoax that here in Venezuela there are I don`t know how many thousands of terrorists ... this lie is a perfect excuse to attempt an invasion of Venezuela," he said.

Such an attack would trigger "a 100-year war", Chavez said, adding: "May God protect us from such a war".

"We want peace in Colombia, we want peace between us," he said. He even suggested the more than four-decades-old Marxist insurgency in Colombia should "reconsider its armed strategy".

"I don`t think there are conditions in Colombia for them (the guerrillas) to take power in a foreseeable period of time," he said, noting that other former leftist rebels in Latin American had turned politicians and won elections.

Earlier, the United States urged Chavez to address the charges by Bogota of Colombian rebels sheltering in Venezuela.

State Department spokesman PJ Crowley said it was unfortunate Venezuela would not allow an international commission to verify the Colombian charges, as requested by Bogota at the OAS.

"It was a petulant response by Venezuela to cut off relations with Colombia," Crowley said in Washington.

He told reporters the US government hoped for a more "constructive" reply from Caracas.

Bureau Report

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