Ecuador leader ‘linked to rebels’

Last Updated: Monday, 3 March 2008, 04:12 GMT Ecuador leader ‘linked to rebels’ [Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa] Rafael Correa ordered troops to the northern border Colombia has said documents found in a cross-border raid suggest links between left-wing Farc rebels and Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa.

Colombian troops had entered Ecuador in a raid that killed a Farc leader, Raul Reyes, and 16 other rebels. Ecuador has expelled Colombia’s ambassador following the attack and is sending troops to the border.

Earlier Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said he was sending thousands of troops and tanks to its border. A spokesman for Colombian President Alvaro Uribe told reporters the documents provided information that “Correa has a relationship and commitments with Farc”.

Police commander Gen Oscar Naranjo said one document showed Reyes had met Ecuador’s minister of internal security and that they discussed Mr Correa’s “interest in making official relations with the Farc”. Earlier, Colombian Foreign Minister Fernando Araujo went on television to express regret that it had to enter Ecuador. But he said that the raid about 1.8km (one mile) inside Ecuador was “indispensable”.

Farc ‘invincibility’ shattered Analysis: War talk After Mr Araujo’s statement, Mr Correa said: “I have decided on the immediate expulsion of Colombia’s ambassador in Ecuador (CarlosHolguin).”

Mr Correa also said he was calling for an immediate meeting of the Organisation of American States and the Andean Community of Nations. Speaking on his weekly television show, President Chavez had said Venezuela’s embassy in Colombia would close. Mr Chavez said he was reacting to the “cowardly murder” of Reyes. Mr Chavez has been mediating with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – or Farc – to secure the release of hostages the rebels hold, and six have so far been freed under this initiative. But he lamented the killing of Reyes – whom he called a “good revolutionary” – when he spoke on his show, “Alo, Presidente”.

‘Violated’

Colombia’s defence minister had described the death of Reyes as the “biggest blow so far” to Farc. But Mr Chavez described the strike as “a cowardly murder, all of it coldly calculated”. He said Colombia “invaded Ecuador, flagrantly violated Ecuador’s sovereignty”.  Mr Chavez addressed his defence minister, asking him to “move 10 battalions to the border with Colombia for me, immediately” – a deployment likely to involve several thousand soldiers. “The air force should mobilise. We do not want war. But we are not going to let them… come and divide and weaken us.”

Colombia’s government has received billions of dollars in aid from Washington to fight the guerrillas – as the US, along with the EU, views Farc as a terrorist organisation.

Colombian troops have recently retaken control of areas previously held by rebel groups, but Farc retains a strong hold over Colombia’s more remote regions.

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