Venezuela: troop deployments are preventative

Venezuelan Foreign Minister said Sunday night that Venezuelan troop deployments to the Colombian border are a preventative measure in response to Colombia's violation of Ecuadorian sovereignty.

Venezuelan Foregin Minister Nicholas Maduro (Prensa MPPRE)

Caracas, March 3, 2008 ( – Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolás Maduro said in a telephone call to state owned television station (VTV) Sunday night, that Colombia has converted itself into a base for organizing war, aggression and violence. Maduro made the comments in reference to the Colombian military’s massacre of 16 guerrillas from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), including Raul Reyes, the FARC second in command, inside Ecuadorian territory.

Maduro also assured that Venezuelan troop deployments to the Colombian border are a preventative measure in response to Colombia’s violation of Ecuadorian sovereignty. On Sunday Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez ordered 10 troop battalions, including tanks and aircraft to the 2200 km long border with Colombia after Colombian fighter planes and ground troops entered up to 10 kilometers into Ecuadorian territory, according to investigations by the Ecuadorian government. Also, all personnel in the Venezuelan Embassy in Bogotá have been recalled.

Likewise, Ecuador moved troops to its border with Colombia, withdrew its ambassador from Bogotá, and expelled the Colombian ambassador from Quito, calling Colombia`s actions the gravest act of aggression that the Uribe government has inflicted upon Ecuado.

Maduro has also revealed that Venezuela received intelligence three weeks ago indicating Colombian plans for a military incursion into Venezuelan territory.

Retired General Alberto Muller Rojas told local television station Channel I that the mobilization of Venezuelan troops to the border regions is a response to the evidence that Colombia is willing to use force as an international policy and that Venezuela must take measures to avoid surprises like what occurred in Ecuador.

Muller Rojas reiterated that Venezuela does not intend to use force beyond its own border, rather it is taking preventative measures to guarantee peace and security.
Despite the increased tensions, there have been no immediate signs of militarization of the border and traffic continues to flow between the two countries.

Guillermo García Ponce, director of Venezuelan daily VEA, told VTV that Venezuelans are preoccupied by the hostile attitude of the United States government as well as reports of growing activity by rightwing Colombian paramilitary groups in Venezuela.

Colombia, which maintains a 5000 strong troop presence along the Venezuelan border, announced today that it will not send more troops to the borders of Venezuela and Ecuador.

Colombia claims that the “principle of legitimate defense” justifies its attack, but Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa has pointed out that it is a violation of international law and Ecuador’s national sovereignty.

In addition, Colombian officials alleged that documents from three computers seized where Reyes was murdered indicate that President Correa has relations with the FARC,. Ecuador says the claims by the Colombian government are a lies. The Colombian government has handed the computers over to the United States, and media reports in Colombia surfaced today alleging that the documents also show links between the FARC and the Venezuelan government.

Maduro denied the claims and said “this is the public political/media justification… for the aberrant policy of violating the sovereignty, the territorial integrity of our brother peoples of Ecuador and the internationalization of a conflict that they want to convert into a Latin America-wide conflict.”

“Imperialism is behind this plan. They want to convert their ‘anti-terrorist’ policy into a justification to attack places around the world and maintain their war budget.”

In an official communication from the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry on Saturday, Venezuela classified the assassination of Reyes, which occurred only three days after the FARC had unilaterally released four hostages to Venezuelan authorities, as a “hard blow” to peace and a humanitarian accord in Colombia.

The statement ratified “without ambiguity, to the Colombian people, the FARC and to all peace loving governments” the disposition of the Venezuelan government “to continue working towards the construction of a solution to this conflict that gravely affects the stability, sovereignty and security of the countries in the region.”

Gloria Polanco and Luis Eladio Pérez, two of the four ex legislators liberated by the FARC last Thursday spoke to the media at the Simon Bolivar International Airport near Caracas before returning to Colombia today. They reiterated the call for a political solution to the conflict and thanked President Chavez and Colombian Senator Piedad Cordoba for their work towards achieving a humanitarian accord.

French Minister for Foreign Affairs, Bernard Kouchner also said the killing of Reyes was “bad news”. Kouchner revealed that Reyes had been the key contact point of the French government in a dialogue aimed at securing the release of French-Colombian citizen Ingrid Betancourt, captured by the guerrillas in 2001. It is “urgent to arrive at a negotiated solution” Kouchner added.

Colombian Senator Piedad who has played a key role, together with Chavez, in negotiating a humanitarian exchange, said that if anything happens to Ingrid Betancourt, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe would have “to give explanations.”