World News

Chavez say Colombia's Uribe trying to spark war

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Sunday accused Colombia of seeking to provoke war, renewing regional tensions after a Colombian attack on a rebel camp in Ecuador sparked the worst Andes diplomatic crisis in a decade.

The accusations could aggravate an Andean region schism between anti-U.S. leftists governments in Ecuador and Venezuela and rightist Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, a Washington ally whose country has received billions of dollars in U.S. aid.

Chavez’s statements come just days after U.S. officials renewed accusations that Chavez has aided Marxist rebels, based on files from the laptop computer of a slain rebel commander.

“The government of Colombia is capable of provoking a war with Venezuela to justify the intervention of the United States,” said Chavez, lambasting Uribe during his weekly Sunday broadcast as “liar” and leader of a “narco-government.”

In March Colombia attacked a rebel camp in Ecuador, killing rebel commander Raul Reyes and sparking a regional diplomatic crisis as Ecuador and Venezuela moved troops to their border with Colombia.

Latin American leaders negotiated an end to the crisis, but Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa has maintained a bitter war of words with Colombia and has not fully restored ties.

Unnamed U.S. officials last week told various media that they determined Chavez’s ties to the rebel group were more extensive than they originally thought after reviewing unpublished files on the computer of Reyes.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday that the files indicate Venezuela offered to arm the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, and sought guerrilla warfare training, possibly to prepare for an invasion Chavez says Washington is plotting.

Chavez on Sunday dismissed the charges, calling Colombian officials “imbeciles” incapable of producing any serious evidence against him.

“Whatever they want they will find -- it’s ridiculous,” Chavez said.

Colombia’s government had previously released files from the laptop that they said proved Chavez’s links to the FARC.

Critics said the e-mails -- filled with FARC military jargon -- were often ambiguous and did not provide conclusive evidence of any collaboration.

Reporting by Brian Ellsworth, editing by Vicki Allen