March 04, 2008
WASHINGTON -- Trying to tamp down a spiraling crisis between Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador, the Organization of American States agreed Tuesday to convene an emergency meeting of foreign ministers and were considering sending a special mission to Ecuador.
The mission would explore diplomatic options and investigate Colombia's Saturday raid to bomb a FARC guerrilla camp about one mile inside Ecuador, killing the top rebel commander known as Raúl Reyes.
Details of the mission and the dates for the foreign ministers' meeting would be worked out later, diplomats said. Ecuador wanted the mission to be a fact-finding one, while the United States argued it should seek diplomatic solutions to the crisis.
Diplomats from Ecuador, Venezuela and Colombia agreed that Colombian troops had entered into Ecuador but could agree on little else, including on how many FARC members died. Colombia said 17 FARC guerrillas were killed and Ecuador said it was 22.
Colombia argued Ecuador and Venezuela ought to be condemned for harboring terrorists -- the Colombian and U.S. government and European Union list the FARC as a terrorists group -- and presented evidence from computers seized on the raid as proof.
Colombian envoy to the OAS Camilo Ospina said additional documents, beyond those already made public, linked Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez with arms and money supplied to the FARC.
This drew an angry response from Venezuelan Ambassador Jorge Valero, who called the statements ''false, absolutely false.'' He accused Colombian government of warmongering and ``genocide acts.''
The meeting revealed the political fault lines in Latin America, with the leftwing Chávez government defending leftist Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa's position that his nation's sovereignty was violated and Colombia should be condemned.
Venezuelan allies Nicaragua, Bolivia and Argentina also condemned Colombia's action.
Argentine Ambassador Rodolfo Gil suggested Colombia had presented ''strange arguments'' and that nations ''no matter what the circumstances'' cannot take unilateral actions.
The U.S. government defended Colombia's action, with acting OAS ambassador Robert Manzanarez noting that the FARC had committed numerous violations of international laws.
''The FARC is clearly a terrorist threat to the entire region,'' he said.
Other countries like Chile, Canada, Mexico and Brazil were more cautious, making only broad references to the need to respect sovereignty and seek a peaceful resolution to a conflict that has seen troops massing on borders and Ecuador break diplomatic ties with Colombia. Venezuela expelled the Colombian ambassador.
But Ecuador demanded a condemnation of Colombia, an OAS mission to verify the violation and a meeting of foreign ministers no later than March 11.
Speaking before a packed hall at the OAS headquarters, Colombia's Ospina said letting terrorists use camps in bordering nations to plot and execute attacks ''is a criminal act'' and a violation of multiple international treaties and U.N. Security Council resolutions.
Ospina said Reyes was wanted by Interpol and had 14 sentences and 121 criminal investigations against him for crimes against humanity like massacres and kidnappings.
He said Colombian aircraft bombed the camp, located 1,800 meters inside Ecuador, from 3-5 miles away, within Colombian airspace. Had the planes entered Ecuadorean airspace they should have been spotted by Ecuadorean radar, he said.
Colombian helicopters then entered into Ecuadorean territory and troops found the bodies of Reyes and 16 other rebels. He said his country had already expressed regrets for that action, and repeated the apology.
An Ecuadorean claim that Colombian fired at sleeping citizens was a ''lack of respect to the people of Colombia'' given that the FARC caused thousands of Colombian deaths, Ospina said.
He also denied Ecuadorean claims that it had told Bogot that Security Minister Gustavo Larrea was meeting with the guerrillas. The meeting was mentioned in one of the captured computers.
Ospina added that since January of 2006, Colombia on ten occasions had told Ecuador to act against the FARC camps.
''Members of the (OAS) and citizens of the hemisphere,'' he said, ``let there be no doubt that the governments of Ecuador and Venezuela were negotiating with narco-terrorists, the proofs are in your hands.''
He demanded ''an honest, sincere'' position on terrorism and said Venezuela's decision to honor Reyes was ''surprising'' given that he was a ``criminal.''
He said he hoped Venezuela and Ecuador would show the same courage in expelling FARC camps as they had shown expelling Colombian diplomats.
Ecuador's representative to the OAS María Isabel Salvador said Colombia's military action was a ''premeditated and preplanned'' attack and that Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has not told the truth about what occurred over the weekend.
She said the computers produced ''alleged proofs'' and were ''strangely intact'' after a bombing raid in which 22 persons died.
Valero of Venezuela denied Chávez had broken any international laws and said Venezuela was simply seeking a peaceful solution to Colombia's civil conflict. ''The military option has failed,'' he said.