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Venezuela's Chavez Breaks Diplomatic Ties With Colombia


Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has severed diplomatic relations with neighboring Colombia after Bogota accused his country of harboring leftist guerrillas.

President Chavez made the announcement on national television Thursday, saying he was forced to sever all relations because Colombia claims he has failed to act against rebels who allegedly have taken shelter in Venezuelan territory. Mr. Chavez said he has ordered Venezuelan military forces to be on "maximum alert" along the border.

President Chavez acted after Colombia went before the Organization of American States' permanent council in Washington to present photographs, maps, coordinates and videos it said show 1,500 leftist rebels hiding in Venezuela.

Colombia's ambassador to the OAS, Luis Alfonso Hoyos, said the documents show what he called "the consolidated, active and growing presence of these terrorist bands" in Venezuela.

Hoyos said Venezuela had not attacked the guerrilla groups as it should. He challenged Venezuelan officials to let independent observers inspect the sites where he said Colombian rebels were taking shelter.

Venezuela's OAS envoy, Roy Chaderton, said the documents that Hoyos presented did not provide any solid evidence of a guerrilla presence in Venezuela.

Later, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro announced that the Chavez government had ordered its embassy in Bogota closed and had given Colombian diplomats in Venezuela 72 hours to leave the country.

Both Colombia and Venezuela had already recalled their respective ambassadors as the dispute intensified.

On Thursday, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Venezuela's rupture of relations with Colombia is not a "proper way" to address concerns in the region.

Colombia requested the OAS session after charging last week that leaders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC, and the National Liberation Army, or ELN, are hiding in Venezuela.

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, who has had tense relations with President Chavez, steps down next month after two terms in office. Bogota previously has accused Venezuela of financing and supporting Colombian FARC rebels, a charge Venezuela has denied.

In 2008, Venezuela and Ecuador broke diplomatic relations with Colombia after Colombian troops raided a FARC rebel camp in Ecuador, killing FARC commander Raul Reyes and at least 20 other people.

Venezuela and Colombia also have been at odds over a 2009 agreement allowing the United States to use seven Colombian military bases for anti-drug operations.

President Chavez has called the deal a threat to his country, but the U.S. and Colombia say their agreement does not pertain to other nations.

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