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US Defense Secretary Does Not Expect Fighting on Colombia-Venezuela Border

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says he does not expect fighting to break out between Colombia and Venezuela, and that if it does he believes the Colombian military can successfully defend its country. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.

Secretary Gates was asked about the increased tension on the Colombia-Venezuela border during a news conference on Wednesday.

"My personal view is that there is relatively little likelihood of a military conflict between them," said Robert Gates. "And my further impression is that the Colombians can take care of themselves."

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announced Sunday he was sending thousands of troops to the border area. But early Wednesday a senior U.S. defense official said "there is not as much to" the Venezuelan buildup as has been reported. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because his information is based on intelligence reports. He said he has not seen any significant concern among U.S. defense officials about any Venezuelan troop movements.

Later, the top U.S. military officer, Admiral Mike Mullen, was asked whether the United States is providing any intelligence to Colombia to help it assess the current situation.

"We have supported President [Alvaro] Uribe in Colombia for many, many years, sort of across the board, from a training perspective and other perspectives," said Admiral Mullen. "And I'd stay away from any of the details of any additional support, except to applaud their success in terms of impacting significantly on the FARC in lots of ways."

Secretary Gates also expressed his support for the Colombian government and its effort to deal with FARC rebels, whom he called "terrorists." President Chavez of Venezuela has good relations with FARC leaders and previously tried to mediate between them and the Colombian government.

A Colombian military strike on an alleged FARC base in Ecuador on Saturday sparked the current tension. Ecuador's government has protested the attack as a violation of its sovereignty, but has not taken any military action.