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US Seeks Pressure on Venezuela to Cut Links With Colombian Rebels

The U.S. State Department said Wednesday Latin American countries should press Venezuela to end any relationship it might have with left-wing rebels in Colombia. Colombia and Venezuela have been in a diplomatic standoff over the abduction from Venezuela last month of a leader of the Colombian rebel group FARC.

The State Department says the United States is asking Latin American countries to urge Venezuela to adopt what it terms a "more conciliatory and constructive position" and to end any relationship it may have with the FARC or other terrorist organizations.

The comments here come amid a diplomatic crisis between Colombia and Venezuela over the abduction in December of a leader of the FARC, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, who had been living in Venezuela.

The seizure of the rebel leader, Rodrigo Granda, was reportedly staged by Colombian agents with the unauthorized cooperation of Venezuelan police.

Venezuela has accused Colombia of violating its sovereignty in what it says was a kidnapping, while Colombia says the capture was a legitimate part of its war against the rebels.

The Bush administration has been a persistent critic of the Venezuelan government of President Hugo Chavez and at a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher sided with Colombia in the Granda case.

He said administration officials certainly do not think that members of the FARC, which the United States has officially designated a terrorist group, should be allowed to "roam around" in neighboring countries "with seeming impunity:"

"We think everybody in the Hemisphere should be concerned about this, should encourage Venezuela to adopt a non-confrontational approach, should encourage them to insure that there is no support whatsoever coming from Venezuela for terrorist groups that are operating in Colombia, and thereby to have a basis for working out their differences with Colombia in an amicable fashion," said Mr. Boucher.

Spokesman Boucher said the United States has raised the matter with other Hemisphere countries including Brazil, and appreciates Brazilian efforts to "constructively engage" both Mr. Chavez and President Alvaro Uribe of Colombia on resolving the dispute.

He also commended a similar effort by Peru in its capacity as the current head of the Andean Community.

On Monday, the State Department rejected as "baseless and unfounded" a charge by Mr. Chavez that the United States was involved in the abduction of Mr. Granda.

It said the Venezuelan leader has presented no evidence to back his claim, because there is none. It called on the Chavez government to explain why it allowed what it termed a "senior FARC terrorist" to freely move within its territory and even obtain a Venezuelan passport.