Brian Ellsworth / Chris Wilson
May 11, 2008
CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Sunday denied backing Colombia's Marxist FARC rebels following renewed charges by U.S. officials that have heightened tensions between the United States and the OPEC nation.
U.S. officials, speaking anonymously, last week said Chavez's ties to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, were more extensive that previously thought, citing files found in a slain FARC commander's laptop computer.
"Whatever they want they will find -- it's ridiculous," Chavez said during a weekly broadcast in which he accused Colombian authorities of faking the computer files to smear his government.
The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday that the files indicate Venezuela offered to arm the rebel group and sought FARC guerrilla warfare training, possibly to prepare for a U.S. invasion that Chavez contends Washington is plotting.
Colombia's government had previously released files from the laptop that they said proved Chavez's links to the FARC.
Critics said the e-mails -- filled with FARC military jargon -- were often ambiguous and did not provide conclusive evidence of any collaboration.
Venezuela has repeatedly denied accusations that it has helped the FARC or given guerrillas refuge in its territory.
But Chavez, a self-styled socialist revolutionary, has expressed sympathy for the FARC, urging the European Union in January to take the group off its list terrorists.
In March Colombia attacked a rebel camp in Ecuador, killing a senior FARC leader and sparking a regional diplomatic crisis as Ecuador and Venezuela moved troops to their border with Colombia.
Latin American leaders eased the crisis in a regional summit, but Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa has not restored diplomatic ties with Colombia over the attack -- which killed an Ecuadorian citizen.
"It's difficult to maintain relations with a government like that ... President Correa is right not to restore relations with Colombia," Chavez said.