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Venezuela sends troops to Colombian border: Chavez

world Updated: Jul 31, 2010 08:01 IST
AFP
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President Hugo Chavez said on Friday that Venezuela has deployed military units and troops to the Colombian border, because outgoing President Alvaro Uribe is "capable of anything," as a row escalates between the two.

Chavez broke off diplomatic relations with Colombia on July 22, one week after Uribe accused Venezuela of harboring 1,500 leftist Colombian rebels in its territory, a charge Chavez has strongly denied.

"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.

The leftist leader did not say how many troops and exactly what military ordnance was involved in the move.

"Uribe is capable of anything in these last days" before he leaves office on August 7, said 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 the president cancelled a trip to Cuba, claiming the risk of a Colombian attack had never been greater.

The Colombian Air Force on Friday 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 also 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. Chavez also did some sabre-rattling at the time.

In their latest tussle, Colombia took its accusations to the Washington-based Organization of American States (OAS) on July 22, while Venezuela earlier this week went before a foreign ministers' meeting of regional body Unasur, the Union of South American Nations, which called for a presidential summit to try to resolve the crisis.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro on Tuesday said there was a possibility things could be patched up between Caracas and Bogota when Colombian president-elect Juan Manuel Santos takes over from Uribe next week.

"If the new Colombian government fully rectifies (its position) and adopts a posture of absolute respect for Venezuela's government and our country, we are sure we can build a new path," Maduro said.

But just a day earlier another top Venezuelan official, Electricity Minister Ali Rodriguez had stoked the rising tensions with Colombia, warning that his government does "not fear war if it is imposed on us."

Rodriquez said Bogota's accusations that Venezuela is harboring Colombian guerrilla leaders were a "foul, vulgar and offensive pretext to attack Venezuela."

Uribe on Friday defended his decision last week to have the OAS take up accusations that Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and National Liberation Army guerrillas were using bases in Venezuela to stage their anti-government attacks on Bogota.

"You have to be daring to denounce terrorists on the international level. You must be daring and respectful of the international community, but honest in laying out our claims," Uribe said.

"It has been a difficult step, one that crates problems, diplomatic frictions, but it's necessary," the outgoing president added.

Uribe leaves after eight years in office with an 80 percent approval rating chiefly for his crackdown on the FARC, which has roughly halved its fighting strength to some 7,000 combatants, according to official figures.