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US Backs Investigation of Alleged FARC Presence in Venezuela

The United States Friday endorsed Colombia's call for an international panel to examine its charges that left-wing Colombian FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) guerrillas are operating from Venezuelan territory. The State Department called Venezuela's decision to break relations over Colombia's allegations "petulant."

The United States is giving strong backing for Colombia's call for an international investigation of FARC activities in Venezuela, and says the government in Caracas has an obligation to cooperate.

The comments follow what was termed here a "fact-based" Colombian presentation to the Organization of American States (OAS) Thursday about the alleged presence of some 1,500 FARC guerrillas on Venezuelan soil.

Venezuela, which said there is no evidence of FARC bases on its territory, severed diplomatic relations with its neighbor hours after the OAS proceeding.

The United States has for a decade provided large-scale aid to Colombia to support its struggle against insurgents, drug traffickers and far-right paramilitaries.

At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley said the Colombian charges need to be taken seriously and that Venezuela, as a member of the inter-American system, has a "clear responsibility" to fight terrorism.

He said the break in relations announced by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was hardly a constructive way to respond. "It's an unfortunate response. It was a petulant response by Venezuela to cut off relations with Colombia. We would hope for a more constructive response by Venezuela to this meeting yesterday. But obviously if Venezuela fails to cooperate in whatever follow-on steps are made, the United States and other countries will obviously take account of that," he said.

Alleged support by the Chavez government for the FARC has long been an irritant in Colombian-Venezuelan relations, and the two countries had another diplomatic crisis over the issue in March of 2008.

At the time, Colombian troops, raiding a FARC camp in Ecuador, were said to have found computer evidence of Venezuelan links to the guerillas.

Spokesman Crowley said it is because of concern about links between Venezuela and the FARC that the United States has not certified Venezuela as being "fully cooperative" with Washington in the fight against terrorism.

Colombian ambassador to the OAS Alfonzo Hoyos, in a two hour presentation at the organization's Washington headquarters Thursday, presented videos, maps, and aerial photos of alleged FARC camps in Venezuela he said had been used to plan kidnappings and attacks in Colombia.

Crowley described the Colombian case as serious and fact-based. He declined to comment on whether any of the evidence had been provided by the United States.

On Friday, Venezuela's Defense Minister Carlos Mata said in a television appearance that his country's forces will respond if any foreign forces cross into Colombian territory.

In Caracas Thursday, Venezuelan President Chavez said his country's military has in the past encountered Colombian guerrillas, paramilitary members and drug traffickers in the rugged border area with Colombia. But he said they were never there with Venezuela's permission.