Latin American leaders head for crisis showdown

 
  

Andean leaders locked in a dispute over a Colombian military raid to kill rebels hiding in Ecuador will confront each other on Friday at a summit dominated by the crisis threatening regional stability.

 

Leftist allies President Rafael Correa of Ecuador and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez are demanding a stronger apology from Colombia, which they criticise for close ties to US President George W Bush.

 

Tensions are high in the Andes after Venezuela and Ecuador, both oil-exporting countries, cut off diplomatic ties with Colombia and sent extra troops to borders with their neighbor. But the three countries say they do not want war.

 

"Of course we can put an end to ... the conflict in this meeting ... It's as easy as hearing unconditional apologies from (Colombian) President Alvaro Uribe, without fallacies," Correa said on arriving in the Dominican Republic on Thursday.

 

Argentine, Guatemalan and Mexican leaders were among those coming to the Rio Group summit that was planned long before Colombia sparked a crisis with the Saturday raid in Ecuadorean territory to kill more than 20 guerrillas.

 

Correa, who visited six countries to lobby against Uribe in a week full of vehement rhetoric on both sides, said Colombia must pledge not to violate its neighbors' territory any more and cease accusations they are supporting the FARC – the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

 

Uribe, who is popular at home for his hard line against the FARC guerrilla group, did not talk about the crisis to reporters on arrival in Santo Domingo.

 

But Uribe says he has already apologized and Colombia demands more cooperation from its neighbors in fighting the FARC, who have killed and kidnapped thousands of people in a four-decade conflict.

 

Ecuador made a sign it would move in that direction when, on the eve of the summit, it announced a rare capture of Colombian guerrillas.

 

"In an operation by the armed forces, five presumed guerrillas were found. FARC guerrillas," Security Minister Gustavo Larrea said about the captures in an Amazonian region on Ecuador's side of the border with Colombia.

 

 

Colombia-US Alliance

 

Chavez has led the region in general condemnation of Colombia's violation of Ecuador's sovereignty and the strongly anti-US leader says the United States is militarizing Colombia in order to attack Venezuela.

 

The United States has backed Colombia, its closest South American ally and recipient of billions of dollars in US aid for fighting guerrillas and the cocaine trade.

 

Chavez said the troop movements this week were "a way to avoid war." He said he has sent only 1,200 additional troops to the border which is normally guarded by 20,000 soldiers.

 

"Colombia's government should accept a condemnation with humility like a good neighbor who commits an error and promise not to follow Bush's imperialist doctrine anymore," Chavez said in Santo Domingo.

 

He also said he did not want to harm Colombia's economy although on Wednesday he threatened to limit trade and investment ties with Bogota.

 

Nicaragua joined Venezuela and Ecuador on Thursday in cutting off diplomatic relations with Colombia.  (Reuters)

 
 
 
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