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Bush Backs Colombia in Dispute With Venezuela

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President Bush is backing Colombian President Alvaro Uribe in his stand-off with Venezuela and Ecuador. VOA White House Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, Venezuela and Ecuador cut diplomatic ties with Colombia after its forces attacked Colombian rebels inside Ecuador on Saturday.

President Bush says he telephoned President Uribe and told him that America will continue to stand with Colombia as it confronts violence, terror, and drug traffickers.

"He updated me on the situation in his country, including the continuing assault by narco-terrorists as well as the provocative maneuvers by the regime in Venezuela," said Mr. Bush. "I told the president that America fully supports Colombia's democracy and that we firmly oppose any acts of aggression that could destabilize the region."

Venezuela and Ecuador have ordered troops to their borders with Colombia and cut diplomatic ties after Colombian forces attacked rebels just inside Ecuador on Saturday. Bogota has apologized for the cross border raid, but said it was a necessary part of its struggle against the FARC rebels.

Colombian officials say documents found during Saturday's raid show that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez paid $300 million to support those rebels. Venezuelan officials reject that claim.

U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey told reporters the Bush Administration wants the dispute resolved through the Organization of American States. Casey would not comment directly on Colombian charges of Venezuelan support for the rebels.

"It certainly would be very unfortunate if any other countries were actively aiding or supporting a group that is responsible for kidnapping, killings, participation in drug trafficking and all the other kinds of things the FARC's engaged in," said Casey.

In a statement on the South Lawn of the White House, President Bush says President Uribe told him that one of the most important ways the United States can demonstrate its support for Colombia is for Congress to approve a free-trade agreement between the countries.

"This trade agreement is more than a matter of smart economics," he said. "It is a matter of national security. If we fail to approve this agreement, we will let down a close ally, we will damage our credibility in the region and we will embolden the demagogues in our hemisphere. The president told me that the people across the region are watching to see what the United States will do."

The president is calling for Republicans and Democrats to act on the free trade agreement at what he calls a critical moment to show that America keeps its word.

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Colombian troops killed a key leader of FARC, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, along with other members of the rebel group in an attack just inside Ecuador on Saturday.

Ecuador severed diplomatic relations with Colombia over the incident, as did the Venezuelan government of President Hugo Chavez, who has had an increasingly difficult relationship with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe.

Bilateral ties have been further strained by Colombian charges that its troops, during Saturday's raid, found evidence of large-scale Venezuelan aid to the FARC.

In a talk with reporters, State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey stressed U.S. support for Colombia in its long conflict with the FARC and said the issue of FARC activities outside of Colombia needs to be addressed.

Casey said the OAS is a proper venue for resolving the dispute. He declined specific comment on the Colombian charges of Venezuelan backing for the FARC, but said any such involvement would be unfortunate.

"We would hope that everyone would work with the government of Colombia to put an end to the threat posed by the FARC," he said.  "It's a terrorist organization. It's been making the lives of the Colombian people miserable for more than 20 years. It certainly would be very unfortunate if any other countries were actively aiding or supporting a group that is responsible for kidnapping, killings, participation in drug trafficking and all the other kinds of things the FARC's engaged in."

Casey said the issue is serious, but that there is not a sense in Washington that it will flare into open hostilities, even though both Ecuador and Venezuela have said they have ordered troops to their borders with Colombia.

Colombia's government has apologized for the raid but said it was a necessary part of its struggle with the FARC. The raid killed Raul Reyes, a senior leader and spokesman for the rebel group.

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