CARACAS, Venezuela – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez warned his Colombian counterpart that war would break out between the South American neighbors if Colombia’s military crossed into Venezuelan territory.
Chavez railed on Saturday against Colombian forces for entering Ecuadorean territory on a raid that killed a senior commander of Colombia’s largest guerrilla group, and he cautioned President Alvaro Uribe against similar actions along Venezuela’s border.
“Don’t think about doing that over here, because it would very serious, it would be cause for war,” Chavez said. “How far is President Uribe willing to go in his warlike madness?”
Chavez, who maintains warm relations with the Colombian guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, said that “it was obscene to see the smiling faces” of Colombian military commanders standing behind Colombian Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos as he announced the death of FARC spokesman Raul Reyes and 16 other rebels on Saturday.
“The Colombian government audaciously acknowledges they entered Ecuadorean territory,” said Chavez, speaking during a televised meeting with his Cabinet. “We call on Colombia’s government to clarify this.”
On Sunday, Colombia denied it violated Ecuador’s sovereignty and said it acted in self-defense.
“The terrorists, among them Raul Reyes, have had the custom of killing in Colombia and taking refuge in the territory of neighboring countries. Many times Colombia has suffered from this situation that we must avoid to protect our citizens,” a Foreign Ministry statement said.
Colombia’s military tracked Reyes’ location through an informant and bombed a camp on its side of the Ecuadorean border, where Reyes was thought to be, Santos said. Ground troops moved in, but came under attack from another camp across the border in Ecuador. When the military overran that camp, they found Reyes’ body, Santos said.
Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa said Uribe had informed him of the raid, but later announced that he was misled after Ecuadorean officials inspected a bombed rebel camp.
“The (Colombian) president either was poorly informed or brazenly lied to the president of Ecuador,” said Correa, who called home the ambassador to Colombia for consultation and promised a diplomatic note of protest.
“Clearly Ecuadorean airspace was violated” in the bombing, Correa said.
Uribe earlier called Reyes’ death a step forward in defeating terrorism.
“Today we’ve taken another step in the process of recuperating the respect of the people of Colombia, the respect that our people deserve,” Uribe told a news conference.
Combatants in Colombian bitter four-decade conflict frequently cross the porous border with Ecuador, creating friction between the neighbors.