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Military Supply Discovery Strains Colombian-Venezuelan Ties - 2002-01-31

The Colombian Air Force Thursday says it intercepted a Venezuelan plane carrying contraband ammunition, presumably destined for Colombian rebels.

The incident comes just a day after the release of a controversial video showing the rebels in a secret meeting with Venezuelan Air Force officials, and has put a tremendous strain on cross-border relations.

Colombian officials say the plane tried to enter Colombia illegally, but was forced down in the lawless Arauca province, a stronghold of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC. On board, were 15 boxes of bullets meant for AK-47 rifles.

Speaking to reporters, the head of the Colombian Air Force said the ammunition was almost certainly intended for FARC rebels.

The discovery could not have come at a more delicate time. On Wednesday, Venezuelan media released a shocking videotape that showed a prominent FARC commander chatting with several Venezuelan Air Force officials in a jungle hideaway.

The men were allegedly hammering out a humanitarian accord to rescue a kidnapping victim. But it remains to be seen whether the rendezvous was sanctioned by the Colombian government.

In a memo that was also leaked to the press, Venezuelan officials allegedly agreed to supply FARC guerrillas with gasoline and medicine. In return, the rebels promised not to conduct military operations in Venezuelan territory.

The Colombian government said it was studying the document, and declined to comment further.