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Tensions rise in South America

By Barney Porter

Posted Thu Mar 6, 2008 4:00pm AEDT
Updated Thu Mar 6, 2008 4:17pm AEDT

Colombia will ask the International Criminal Court to try the Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez of supporting genocide (File photo).

Colombia will ask the International Criminal Court to try the Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez of supporting genocide (File photo). (Reuters: Jorge Silva)

Venezuela has moved 10 army battalions to the border with Colombia, as diplomats struggle to defuse the regional crisis triggered by Colombia's cross-border attack in Ecuador last weekend.

The Organisation of American States says Colombia violated Ecuador's sovereignty in the raid and Colombia has said it will ask the International Criminal Court to try the Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez for genocide, claiming he is financing the rebels.

Ecuador has accused Colombia of violating its sovereignty when it raided the FARC's jungle camp - killing the rebel group's second-in-command, Raul Reyes.

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe says the leftist governments of Venezuela and Ecuador provide support to the rebels and has now signalled he will seek to bring charges of supporting genocide against the Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

"We are proposing to the International Criminal Court that President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela be denounced for the presumed crime of financing genocide.

"We have suffered 40 years of terrorism, and we can't accept that a country should be in solidarity and in complicity with terrorists."

But Ecuador's President Rafael Correa sees it differently.

"Here is a naked, irrefutable fact" he said.

"International law has been trampled upon; the letter to the Organisation of American States has been trampled upon; the fundamental respect that needs to exist for a sovereign country, a friend and a dear brother, has also been trampled upon"

Organisation of American States secretary Reinaldo Rodriguez Gallad says Correa is now being backed by the organisation, after an emergency meeting in Washington.

"We reaffirm the principle that a state's territory can't be violated and can't be the subject of military occupation, nor any other forceful measure taken by any other state, whatever the motive may be, even temporarily."

The United States was the only nation in the OAS to offer Colombia unqualified support.

Ecuador has since rejected a Colombian apology as insufficient and President Correa has mobilised thousands of Ecuadorian troops towards the border.

And the Colombian raid has also infuriated President Chavez, who has ordered his own tanks and troops to the border area.

President Chavez says he believes conflict with Colombia and its ally, the United States, is inevitable, but his country wants peace.

"Nothing and nobody will take us off the road to true peace," he said.

Dr Yvonne Corcoran-Nantes is a senior lecturer with the School of Political and International Studies at Flinders University and says Colombia has broken all the existing protocol.

"The co-existence and the solidarity that been developed over the last decade within South America has been really, really important and this has really broken all the protocols or many of them that have been sustained and supported over the last decade," she said.

Dr Corcoran-Nantes says there is little basis to Colombia's claims that Chavez is supporting the FARC rebels.

"International political positions, particularly those that support the United States will consistently blame Hugo Chavez for almost everything that goes on in Latin America that it doesn't like," she said.

"I don't think for one minute that Chavez is supporting in any substantive financial or materialistic way, FARC for example.

Dr Corcoran-Nantes says that the crisis will eventually pan out.

"I think that Columbia will come to a point when it will make some grudging apology," she said.

"But at the same time it will justify what it has done and whether that is acceptable or not remains to be seen.

"I don't believe, we are going to break out in all out war, unless pushed.

"The United States wouldn't want that, but I think it will make the relationship between Columbia and Ecuador and Columbia and Venezuela extremely fraught."

Meanwhile, border commerce between Venezuela and Colombia has already been disrupted as the tensions worsen.

What one Venezuelan citizen says perhaps best sums up the mood of the people there.

"Everybody is afraid of what could happen," he said.

"The truth is, as far as I'm concerned, this shouldn't be happening, how can we fight if we are brothers?"

Tags: government-and-politics, world-politics, colombia, ecuador, venezuela

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