World News

Colombia says "never" thought to attack Venezuela

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia rejected on Saturday accusations by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez that Bogota was planning an attack on neighbouring Venezuela, saying the socialist leader was deceiving his people with such charges.

Chavez said on Friday he had deployed troops to the border to repel a possible assault after Colombia claimed last week that his country was harbouring Colombian rebels in camps in Venezuela.

“Colombia has never thought of attacking its brother nation (Venezuela) as the president of that country says, in a clear political deception of his own country,” Colombian President Alvaro Uribe’s office said in a statement.

“Colombia has gone to the channels of international law and will continue insisting on those mechanisms so there is an instrument to make the Venezuelan government comply with its obligations not to harbour Colombian terrorists.”

Chavez cut ties with Uribe’s government after Colombia presented video, maps and photographs alleging that FARC rebels and guerrillas from a smaller leftist group were hiding out in Venezuelan territory.

Colombia’s foreign ministry denied a statement from Chavez that a Colombian aircraft had violated Venezuela’s airspace for five minutes this week. “No Colombian military aircraft or helicopter has crossed into Venezuelan airspace,” it said.

Chavez said his foreign minister would meet Colombia’s new government, which takes office on August 7. Close Uribe ally Juan Manuel Santos, a former defence minister who becomes president next week, wants to improve relations with Venezuela.

Various Colombian leaders have battled Marxist guerrillas since the 1960s in Latin America’s No. 4 oil producer.

Uribe -- who first came to power in 2002 -- has battered once-mighty rebels with his U.S.-backed offensive that has pushed the insurgents back into remote, rural areas.

Although violence has fallen dramatically during Uribe’s eight years as president, shootings, bombings and other attacks are still common.

On Friday night, FARC rebels killed four soldiers and a police officer in an ambush in the southern Caqueta province, local media said. Two civilians were also wounded.

The leader of the FARC, Colombia’s largest rebel movement, has called on President-elect Santos to look for a political solution to the four-decades-old conflict.

Reporting by Monica Garcia; Writing by Jack Kimball; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Eric Beech