Colombia, Venezuela in crisis over Marxist rebels

AFP | By, Bogota
Nov 26, 2007 08:26 PM IST

Colombia and Venezuela faced the worst crisis in their bilateral relations in years after the Colombian president accused his Venezuelan counterpart of seeking to install a Marxist government.

Colombia and Venezuela faced Monday the worst crisis in their bilateral relations in years after the Colombian president accused his Venezuelan counterpart of seeking to install a Marxist government in Bogota and Caracas "froze" relations between the two countries.

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"Your words, your positions, suggest you are not interested in peace in Colombia, but rather in Colombia becoming the victim of a terrorist government of the FARC," said Colombian President Alvaro Uribe on Sunday, referring to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the country's largest rebel group.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said earlier he was putting bilateral ties in a "freezer," after Uribe dropped him and Colombian senator Piedad Cordoba as mediators in negotiations with the FARC on possibly swapping captured leftist rebels for high-profile hostages the guerrillas hold.

"We need a mediation with terrorists, and not people who try to lend legitimacy to terrorism," Uribe said referring to Chavez.

Chavez had said in Venezuela: "I declare to the world that I am putting relations with Colombia in the freezer. I do not believe in anyone in the Colombian government."

"They have spat brutally in our face when we worked heart and soul to try to get them on the road to peace," Chavez added.

He later said in a television interview that he was now ruling out rejoining the Andean Community of Nations, a trade bloc of which Colombia is a prominent members.

Venezuela withdrew from the group last year following its decision to join Mercosur, a different trade association led by Argentina and Brazil.

Caracas had been considering returning to the Andean Community, but Chavez said it was now out of the question.

"Now we are definitely not going back to the ACN," he said.

In Bogota, Senator Cordoba said Sunday she was being investigated by her country's Supreme Court for treason.

"They notified me yesterday; I am being investigated for treason and collusion," Cordoba told Radio Caracol from Caracas. She did not say if the charges against her were related to her work as mediator or to unrelated allegations.

Uribe approved Chavez and Cordoba for their negotiator roles on August 31, following a phone call from Chavez to Colombian Army General Mario Montoya inquiring about the hostages.

Cordoba came under considerable fire in government circles for meeting secretly with rebel commanders Ivan Marquez and Rodrigo Granda, whom the FARC selected to negotiate the swap of 45 abductees for about 500 jailed guerrillas.

Uribe on Wednesday withdrew backing for Chavez and Cordoba to mediate the FARC's offer to release 45 high-profile hostages -- including three Americans and French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt -- in exchange for the jailed rebels.

The conservative Colombian president said that he considered Chavez's role over because the Venezuelan leader had ignored his demand not to speak directly with Colombian generals about the hostages.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has asked Uribe to "maintain a dialogue" with Chavez over the possible swap, his office said Thursday.

Sarkozy has taken a personal interest in the fate of Betancourt, a Colombian former presidential candidate who has a French passport by virtue of a marriage to a Frenchman.

She has been held by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) since 2002.

The four-decades old FARC is Latin America's largest and longest-fighting insurgency.

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