Chavez says may break Colombia ties in rebel spat



Chavez says may break Colombia ties in rebel spat Caracas: Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez threatened to break ties with Colombia after Bogota accused him of tolerating the presence of leftist rebels, escalating tension between the ideologically opposed neighbors.

Colombia said on Thursday it had proof that members of Colombian guerrilla groups like the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, are hiding in the jungle on Venezuela's side of the border.

Relations between the socialist Chavez and the conservative government of Colombia have deteriorated in the last two years because of spillover from Colombia's decades-long civil conflict and accusations Chavez helps the leftist rebels.

Two years ago, a Colombian raid on a FARC camp in Ecuador led to troop movements by Caracas, raising the specter of war in the Andean region. Tensions flared again last year.

Citing personal safety, Chavez said he will not attend the August 7 inauguration of Colombia's newly elected president, Juan Manuel Santos, and called on Santos to distance himself from outgoing President Alvaro Uribe.

"If they keep up this craziness, in the next few hours I will break relations with Colombia," Chavez said in a broadcast. "This will make it much harder to restore ties with the new government."

"I have a responsibility to protect my life," said Chavez, who often reports alleged plots to kill him. "Because of that I won't attend the swearing in of the new president.

Chavez's government accused Uribe of seeking to wreck moves to repair relations between the two countries, which have both lost out on billions of dollars of trade because of the spat.

"As these steps (for improved relations) are going ahead, Uribe's government has decided ... to dynamite the rapprochement," Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro told a news conference in Caracas. He also said Caracas was recalling its Bogota ambassador for consultations.

Following up on its accusation, Colombia's presidency on Friday requested that the OAS hold an extraordinary meeting of its permanent council to deal with the alleged presence of the rebels in Venezuela.

Colombia says it has satellite images and the coordinates that show a top FARC commander has a camp in western Venezuela. Rejecting the Colombian charges as "an old broken record," Chavez called Uribe a "mafioso ... full of hatred."

"We're not going to be provoked," Chavez said on Friday, adding he would give Santos a chance to act on his declared intentions of improving Colombian relations with Venezuela. "I'm waiting to see," Chavez said.

Colombia said in the last six years it had repeatedly given the Venezuelan government information about the alleged presence of the rebels on Venezuelan soil, but Caracas had failed to act.

In 2008, Bogota released information gleaned from computers taken from a FARC camp that it said showed Chavez had backed the guerrillas financially. Chavez denied the charges.

Maduro said Venezuela's security forces had followed up information given by Colombia about suspected rebel camps. He said the tip-offs never proved to be correct.

Bureau Report