The New York Times
March 04, 2008
CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuela and Ecuador mobilized troops to their borders with Colombia on Sunday, intensifying a diplomatic crisis after Colombian forces killed a senior guerrilla leader at a jungle camp in Ecuador.
In addition, Colombia said late Sunday night that documents from a seized notebook computer belonging to the guerrilla, Raúl Reyes, pointed to collaboration between Ecuador"s government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, Latin America"s largest insurgency.
The documents describe communications between Mr. Reyes, the FARC"s second-in-command, and an emissary of President Rafael Correa in which Ecuador"s government asked for the FARC"s intelligence on police commanders in eastern Ecuador in order to transfer them out of the region.
The documents, made public by Colombian police director Óscar Naranjo, also suggested that Mr. Correa was open to formalizing ties with the FARC. A spokesman for Ecuador"s government in Quito called the claims a lie, according to The Associated Press.
The killing on Saturday of 17 members of the FARC also generated a fierce diplomatic reaction from Ecuador and Venezuela. President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, whose government has warm ties with the rebel group, threatened Colombia with war and mobilized tank units and fighter jets near the border between the two countries.
Speaking on television Sunday night, President Correa of Ecuador called Colombia"s action a violation of Ecuador"s sovereignty. He expelled Colombia"s ambassador and withdrew his ambassador from Bogotá.
Mr. Chávez, meanwhile, said he was shutting down Venezuela"s embassy in Colombia.
Rhetorically at least, Mr. Chávez"s threat points to one of the tensest moments between Venezuela and Colombia in recent decades. Whether or not the saber-rattling produces conflict, Mr. Chávez stands to benefit from a distraction from social problems here, like food shortages and surging inflation.
Mr. Chávez couched his warning by saying he would react in the event of a Colombian raid into Venezuela. He taunted President Álvaro Uribe of Colombia, a Bush administration ally, calling him a "mafia boss," "criminal," "liar" and "lackey of the empire."
"If you decide to do this in Venezuela, pal, we"ll send you a few Sukhois," Mr. Chávez said, referring to the fighter jets Venezuela has recently acquired from Russia.
Mr. Chávez described the slain senior guerrilla, Raúl Reyes, the second most powerful member of the FARC, as "a true revolutionary." He said he had met with Mr. Reyes on three occasions since the 1990s, offering rare detail into Venezuela"s often murky ties to Colombia"s rebel groups.
Both the FARC and a smaller insurgency, the National Liberation Army, or ELN, operate along the porous border. Movements by uniformed members of both groups have been documented in western Venezuela. The FARC has also been reported to have operated without hindrance in eastern Ecuador.
Colombia"s government kept silent after Mr. Chávez"s threats, as it largely has done since a deterioration of ties between the countries that began in November when Mr. Uribe abruptly withdrew his support for Mr. Chávez"s mediation with the FARC.
But in response to Ecuador"s protest that Colombia had violated its sovereignty, Colombia"s Foreign Ministry apologized Sunday night. Mr. Correa, Ecuador"s president, called the apology a "mockery."
Strengthening trade links among Andean countries suggest that the tension will soon die down.
Trade between Colombia and Venezuela, for instance, still flourishes despite a hiccup in some industries caused by recent political outbursts. Venezuela even relies now on a natural gas pipeline from Colombia for its extraction of oil around Lake Maracaibo.