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Venezuela, US clash at OAS General Assembly

Medellin, Colombia - Venezuela and the United States clashed strongly Tuesday at the annual meeting of the General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS) in the Colombian city of Medellin.

Both countries accused each other of harbouring terrorists, and Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro called US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte a 'petty official with a criminal record.'

Maduro accused Negroponte of being 'responsible for disappearances, for tortures and for deaths in Central America and in several parts of the world.'

He further called him a 'character of the worst kind.'

Maduro's remarks followed comments by Negroponte on Monday calling upon Venezuela to actively combat the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) that 'have sought sanctuary' in its territory.

US ambassador to the OAS, Hector Morales, said Tuesday that he had not seen a Venezuelan condemnation of terrorism, and the Venezuelan minister immediately replied that the US should extradite Luis Posada Carriles to Venezuela if it is so concerned about combatting terrorism.

Posada Carriles, 80, is accused by Havana and Caracas of the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner which killed 73 people, and other deadly attacks. He was convicted in Venezuela of being one of the masterminds of the bombing, but escaped from prison after eight years and joined US-directed covert counterinsurgency operations in Central America.

He entered the US illegally in 2005, and was detained by US officials. But the US refused extradition requests from Cuba and Venezuela, and in 2007 dropped charges against him on immigration fraud.

Washington has labelled FARC a terrorist group, and Morales had called upon Venezuela to comment on countries' obligation to cooperate with their neighbours in fighting terrorists.

'If the US government says it wants to combat terrorism, let it immediately capture Luis Posada Carriles and hand him over to Venezuelan Justice so that his trial can conclude,' Maduro said.

He asked OAS 'to watch the conduct of the US government as it protects a well-known, convicted and self-declared terrorist that has committed tremendous crimes' against Venezuela.

'OAS governments must know that this terrorist is free, protected by the United States government in Florida,' he insisted.

Earlier, Maduro accused Negroponte of seeking to 'drive the wedge of intrigue' at the Medellin gathering and to determine the agenda of the meeting.

The Venezuelan minister interpreted that the United States was upset about a meeting that Maduro held Monday with Colombian Foreign Minister Fernando Araujo, who sought to revamp bilateral ties between the neighbours following a severe diplomatic crisis prompted by a Colombian cross-border raid against a FARC camp in Ecuador.

'This petty official has no moral quality to talk about any issues in our continent, and neither does the United States,' Maduro complained.

He went as far as to say the US government is 'behind the political operation, the show that is being staged around the computers' found in the raid on March 1. Colombian officials have alleged the computers contain information tieing the Venezuelan government to FARC.

The raid has been a constant topic at the general assembly meeting, which started Sunday and was set to end Tuesday.

'We call on the conscience of the Colombian people, of the Colombian government, to realize that behind this campaign there is only one objective: to divide us, to confront us against each other, to create a conflict,' Maduro said.

Published on Jun 4th 2008 at 10.02am