The United States Monday challenged Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to follow through with concrete actions on his call Sunday for an end to the long insurgency in Colombia. The Venezuelan leader called on FARC guerrillas to put down their weapons and release hostages unconditionally. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.
The comments appear to be a major reversal in policy for the Venezuelan leader, who has been a strong verbal supporter of the Colombian rebels and also, allegedly, a financial and material backer of the insurgent movement.
In his weekly television program Sunday, Mr. Chavez said he believed the time has come for the FARC - the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia - to release all its hostages without conditions as a humanitarian gesture.
He further called for an end to the organization's five-decade-long military campaign against the Bogota government, saying guerrilla warfare is out of step with the Latin America of today, and "is history."
The Chavez remarks have drawn a cautious welcome from Colombian officials and also here in Washington, where State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the Venezuelan leader should back up the words on FARC with tangible action.
"Those are certainly good words. And we would encourage Venezuela to follow those good words with concrete actions," he said. "And Venezuelan government should make every effort, public and in private, to distance itself from any relationship it may have had with the FARC. And I say that based on the news reports that we've seen concerning a relationship in the past between Venezuela and the FARC."
The FARC has long been listed by the United States as a foreign terrorist organization and three U.S. military contractors are among the hundreds of people held hostage by the group, some of them for many years.
Venezuela's relationship with the group drew international attention in March after Colombian troops raided a FARC camp just across the border in Ecuador and killed a senior guerrilla commander.
Colombia said it seized computer evidence in the raid showing large-scale Venezuelan financial and material support for the guerrillas, including the provision of weapons and ammunition.
Under questioning here, spokesman McCormack said U.S. experts are still examining evidence from the raid provided by Colombia, and said he would not speak publicly about information the United States may have obtained independently on the Venezuela-FARC relationship.
Several members of the U.S. Congress, citing the Colombian accounts of the computer evidence, have urged the Bush administration to cite Venezuela as a state sponsor of terrorism.
In his broadcast comments Sunday, Mr. Chavez said FARC activities have become an excuse for the United States to threaten Venezuela.
He has in the past depicted the group as a legitimate insurgent force to which countries in a region should give de facto recognition.