Latin America & Caribbean

Colombia accuses Venezuela of harbouring rebel groups

File photo from 2007 showing Rodrigo Granda and Ivan Marquez - courtesy El Tiempo
Farc leaders Rodrigo Granda and Ivan Marquez are among those in Venezuela, Colombia says

The Colombian government says it has clear evidence that five rebel leaders are sheltering in Venezuela.

Defence Minister Gabriel Silva said Colombian intelligence agencies had also gathered grid references of Farc and ELN rebel camps there.

He said this showed Venezuela's "continued and permanent tolerance" of guerrillas on its soil.

Venezuela, which has previously denied harbouring rebels, has so far not commented on the latest accusations.

"We have overwhelming evidence of the presence, including from today, of a terrorist presence in Venezuela," announced Mr Silva, in the most direct accusations to date against President Hugo Chavez's government.

He said that Bogota had video recordings and the exact grid coordinates not only of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) camps, but those of the smaller National Liberation Army (ELN).

Mr Silva said there was evidence a member of the Farc ruling body who goes by the name of Ivan Marquez had been meeting other rebel leaders in Venezuela.

Other guerrillas in Venezuela were Rodrigo Granda, considered the Farc's foreign minister, Timoleon Jimenez and German Briceno, Colombian officials said.

ELN leader Carlos Marin Guarin and members of his organisation were also there.

Frozen ties

There has so far been no official comment from the Venezuelan governemnt but former vice president Jose Rangel said the accusations aimed "to perpetuate bad ties" between the two South American neighbours.

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe hands over power to his successor and his former defence minister, Juan Manuel Santos, in less than three weeks.

Mr Rangel told the TeleSur network that the accusations could be interpreted "as the first act of opposition by (President) Uribe" against his successor.

Mr Santos has indicated he wants to improve relations with Venezuela, correspondents say.

He has said that talks must start "to resolve the problem we have at hand: the presence of terrorists in Venezuelan territory".

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez froze diplomatic relations with Bogota in July last year over the issue of US military bases in Colombia.

Mr Chavez is unlikely to respond positively to this new public and high-profile accusation from Colombia.

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