March 4 (Reuters) - U.S. President George W. Bush and candidates hoping to replace him in the White House have given broad support for Colombia in its diplomatic and military stand-off with Venezuela and Ecuador.
A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers, saying they do not want to prejudge the crisis, have called for a high-level diplomatic effort to reduce tensions in the Andean region.
The crisis erupted on Saturday when Colombian forces killed a leading leftist rebel inside neighboring Ecuador. Ecuador and its leftist ally Venezuela responded by cutting diplomatic ties with U.S.-backed Colombia and moving troops to their borders.
Following are comments on the South American crisis from Bush, U.S. presidential candidates and members of Congress:
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH
In a statement after speaking to Colombian President Alvaro Uribe by phone:
"We firmly oppose any acts of aggression that could destabilize the region. I told him that America will continue to stand with Colombia as it confronts violence and terror and fights drug traffickers."
Bush also called on Congress to enact a bilateral free trade agreement with Colombia as a demonstration of U.S. support: "If we fail to approve this agreement, we will let down our close ally, we will damage our credibility in the region and we will embolden the demagogues in our hemisphere."
NEW YORK SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE
"President Chavez has taken actions that are very dangerous ... He is siding with the terrorists."
"The action taken by President Chavez ... (is) provocative and it should alienate him from the rest of Latin America ... For the life of me, why Hugo Chavez would side with the terrorists is inexplicable."
ILLINOIS SEN. BARACK OBAMA, DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE
"The Colombian people have suffered for more than four decades at the hands of a brutal terrorist insurgency, and the Colombian government has every right to defend itself against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.
"The presidents of Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela have a responsibility to ensure that events not spiral out of control, and to peacefully address any disputes through active diplomacy with the help of international actors."
ARIZONA SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE
"I hope that the tensions will be relaxed, that President Chavez will remove those troops from the border as well as the Ecuadoreans, and relations will continue to improve.
"Have no doubt that FARC is one of the premier terrorist organizations in the world who has engaged in widespread kidnapping, murder and drug trade for many, many years."
* 14 DEMOCRATIC AND REPUBLICAN MEMBERS OF THE U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
In a letter to the Organization of American States:
"We do not want to prejudge what happened but instead respectfully request that the OAS send a high-level diplomatic mission to visit the three countries to gather facts on what happened and to negotiate a reduction of tensions and a better process of crisis communication between the three governments.
"As members of the United States Congress who are concerned about the stability of the politically and economically fragile Andean region, we believe that the OAS is best equipped to deal with this crisis." (Compiled by David Morgan, Editing by Frances Kerry)
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