July 29, 2009 / 1:42 AM / 10 years ago

Colombian rebels say did not fund Ecuador's Correa

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia’s biggest rebel army denied on Tuesday government accusations that it gave money to the political campaign of leftist President Rafael Correa of neighboring Ecuador.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, said the Colombian government manipulated a video released earlier this month in which a top FARC commander said the rebels helped fund Correa’s 2006 presidential campaign.

The issue has exacerbated tensions between U.S.-backed Colombia and socialist leaders in the region who criticize Washington while forging ties with Russia, China and Iran.

Colombia points to the tape as proof that Correa is too cozy with the guerrillas, a claim he dismisses.

The FARC, branded a terrorist organization by the United States, called the accusation “a smoke screen.”

“Washington and Bogota manipulated the video, taking the document out of context,” said a statement signed by the FARC’s governing secretariat. “We categorically deny having given money to any election campaign of any neighboring country.”

Correa has clashed repeatedly with President Alvaro Uribe of Colombia, whose government has received billions of dollars in U.S. military aid aimed at fighting the FARC and the cocaine trade that funds its decades-old insurgency.

Ecuadorian security minister Miguel Carvajal said on Tuesday that the FARC’s statement is proof that the video was “tampered with” to launch “a media war” against Ecuador.

Ecuador and Venezuela, which also shares a border with Colombia and is governed by leftist firebrand Hugo Chavez, say a plan being negotiated to increase U.S. anti-drug and anti-insurgent operations in Colombia poses a threat to the region.

Venezuela will withdraw its ambassador from Colombia and freeze bilateral relations, Chavez said on Tuesday after days of accusations over the possible U.S. troop buildup and alleged arms supplies to the FARC.

Ecuador broke diplomatic relations with Bogota last year after Colombia’s military bombed a rebel camp on Ecuador’s side of the border, killing the FARC’s No. 2 commander Raul Reyes.

Correa says he will answer any more such raids with a military response. Chavez meanwhile vows to double Venezuela’s tank force in response to the plan being drawn up between Washington and Bogota for increased military cooperation.

Tensions were heightened on Monday when Colombia said the FARC had obtained rockets that Venezuela bought in Europe. Venezuela denies the claim and accuses Colombia of using it to justify its upcoming military pact with the United States.

The deal for increasing U.S. troops in Colombia is expected to be signed next month.

Additional reporting by Eduardo Garcia in Quito, editing by Philip Barbara

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