Diplomats Closer To Ending Crisis In Latin America

Probe of Colombian Strike Authorized as Neighbors Dispatch Troops

A Venezuelan soldier guards a checkpoint in Paraguachon, on the border with Colombia. Officials said 85 percent of a planned force of 10,000 was in position.
A Venezuelan soldier guards a checkpoint in Paraguachon, on the border with Colombia. Officials said 85 percent of a planned force of 10,000 was in position. (Photo: Howard Yanes/AP)
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Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, March 6, 2008; Page A14

BOGOTA, Colombia, March 5 -- As Venezuelan troops took up positions on Colombia's border, diplomats at the Organization of American States moved closer Wednesday to resolving a crisis that ignited when Colombia launched a strike against Marxist rebels just inside Ecuador.

OAS ambassadors reached a deal that does not condemn Colombia for Saturday's incursion, which led to the deaths of a top rebel commander and 23 other guerrillas. But their resolution says Colombia violated the "sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ecuador" by bombing a rebel camp and then sending soldiers in to recover the body of Luis Edgar Devia, better known as Raúl Reyes, who was one of seven directors of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

The resolution creates a commission headed by Secretary General José Miguel Insulza to analyze the circumstances surrounding Colombia's strike and calls for foreign ministers to meet in Washington on March 17 to examine the findings.

The resolution pleased Ecuador, whose president, Rafael Correa, has been denouncing Colombia's action in a tour of Latin American countries.

"We're very satisfied with the resolution because it contains everything Ecuador proposed," Ecuador's foreign minister, Maria Isabel Salvador, said from Washington in a phone interview. "There's recognition that there was a violation of Ecuadoran sovereignty and that the attack was a serious violation of the principle of respect for territorial sovereignty."

Analysts said the resolution was a positive development after five days of growing tensions in a historically unstable region where the United States has spent billions to fight drug trafficking and Marxist rebels, mostly on behalf of Colombia, its close ally.

"That the resolution was approved by consensus was a good starting point to walking back and defusing tension," said Peter DeShazo, who runs the Americas program for the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

But the Venezuelan government, a vocal critic of Colombian President Álvaro Uribe, moved ahead with plans to position 10 combat battalions, along with tanks and aircraft, at the country's border with Colombia, according to its defense minister, Gen. Gustavo Rangel.

Venezuelan officials said on state television Wednesday that 85 percent of a planned force of 10,000 was in position and that the rest would be in place in the coming days.

"Is it possible that something like what happened in Ecuador could happen here?" Gen. Jesús González said at a news conference. "The answer is simply yes."

President Hugo Chávez, who vowed to support Ecuador, his ally, against Colombia, says the mobilization is purely defensive, in case Colombia or the United States crosses into Venezuela. He also called the killing of the rebel, with whom he had met several times since the 1990s, a "war crime."

Rangel, the defense minister, said, "The decisions have been made in the face of the threats against the fatherland, after the aggressions against the territory of the Republic of Ecuador." He also said the strike in Ecuador had been "directed by agents from the United States empire."

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