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US Calls Alleged Venezuelan Help to Colombian Rebels Highly Disturbing

The U.S. State Department Thursday said reports that Venezuela may have tried to acquire advanced weapons for Colombian FARC rebels are highly disturbing. Venezuela denies the reports, which have spurred U.S. Congressional calls for action against the Hugo Chavez government. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

The Bush administration is acknowledging the seriousness of the reported Venezuelan activity, but it is non-committal about Congressional calls that the Chavez government be designated a state sponsor of terrorism.

Colombia said two months ago its troops found computer evidence of Venezuelan arms and financial support for FARC, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, when they raided a FARC camp in Ecuador.

Colombia said the records, of a senior FARC commander killed in the cross-border operation, revealed large scale Venezuelan funding and arms aid for the rebels, who have been active for decades.

The Washington Post reported Thursday that documents it was shown by Colombian officials indicate that Venezuela tried to arrange delivery to the FARC of anti-aircraft missiles.

The Post said there was no evidence the guerrillas received the missiles, which could have tipped the balance of power in the conflict, but that Venezuela did apparently provide light arms, grenade launchers and ammunition.

At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said the latest reports only add to U.S. concern about the alleged relationship between the Caracas government and the FARC.

"Certainly the picture painted by some of the preliminary news reports that I've seen over the past few days is disturbing, highly disturbing," he said. "There are serious allegations about Venezuela's supplying arms and support to a terrorist organization. Certainly that has deep implications for the people of the region as well as states in the region."

McCormack said the United States, which has been given access to the computer information, is conducting its own analysis and at this point has no reason to question its legitimacy.

Also Thursday, the Paris-based international police agency Interpol said its examination of the computers and hard drives provided by the Colombian government turned up no evidence of tampering or alteration of the data.

Colombia provided the material to Interpol two months ago in an effort to bolster its case against Venezuela.

Venezuelan President Chavez, who has defended the FARC as a legitimate military force, has accused Colombia of fabricating the computer documents.

The Caracas government has termed the latest charges, in the Washington Post, as laughable and lies.

But the affair has spurred several members of the U.S. Congress to call on the Bush administration to list Venezuela, a major U.S. oil supplier, as a state sponsor of terrorism.

Republican Congressman Connie Mack said Thursday the validation of the computer information by Interpol makes it imperative for the administration to act against Venezuela without delay.

Spokesman McCormack said he is sure the latest information will figure into what he termed the administration's rigorous analysis of the issue.