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Venezuela destroyed bridge, held soldier: Colombia

Last Updated: Saturday, December 5, 2009 - 12:06

Bogota: Colombia said on Friday Venezuelan troops had blown up another makeshift bridge across their frontier and were holding a Colombian soldier who crossed the border in the latest incidents to test fraying ties.
Andean neighbours Venezuela and Colombia began sparring several months ago in a dispute that has disrupted their USD 7 billion a year in bilateral trade and fuelled fears of a violent clash along their poorly controlled frontier.

Venezuela President Hugo Chavez, a fierce US foe, has ramped up his rhetoric with talk of war and ordered Colombian imports cut to protest a Colombian plan to allow US troops more access to bases to fight cocaine lords and guerrillas.

"They have blown up another community bridge," Colombian Defence Minister Gabriel Silva told reporters. "This is another act of aggression and a violation of international rights."

Silva said a Colombian soldier who accidentally crossed the frontier was being held by Venezuelan authorities. Colombia recently released five Venezuelan troops who wandered onto its side of the border.

Venezuela`s military said the bridge in Tachira State had been used for by smugglers. Local authorities did not comment on the Colombian charges about a detained soldier.

"Troops took out a walkway which was used to transport a lot of contraband food and fuel," said General Franklin Marquez, a regional commander for the Venezuelan National Guard. "They are always patrolling to make sure these bridges are not rebuilt."

Last month, Venezuelan troops dynamited two makeshift footbridges across the border because they were used by traffickers. Colombia denounced the destruction before the United Nations and Organisation of American States.

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, a staunch Washington ally, this week accused Chavez`s government of imposing an illegal trade blockade similar to the US embargo on Cuba after Venezuela said Colombia was engaged in "psychological war”.

OPEC-member Venezuela relies heavily on Colombian food products but Chavez is seeking alternative imports from Brazil and Argentina. Colombian shipments to its neighbour plunged 70 percent in October alone.

Chavez and Uribe were once dubbed the Andean "odd couple”, able to resolve disputes with hugs and handshakes despite a growing political gulf. Now, while conflict is unlikely, analysts see a growing risk of small-scale border violence.

Chavez says the Colombian base plan sets the stage for aggression against his nation, while Uribe says it is an extension of cooperation to end Colombia`s long guerrilla war.

Bureau Report

First Published: Saturday, December 5, 2009 - 12:06

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