Ecuador urges meet to calm Colombia-Venezuela row

Ecuador has called for a presidential summit of the Unasur group of South American nations to deal with the diplomatic breakdown between Bogota and Caracas over Colombian rebels allegedly operating in Venezuela.

"We invite the heads of state to meet so they can directly take on and deal with the issues we've addressed in this meeting," Ecuadoran Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino said after four hours of closed-door discussions with his Unasur colleagues.

A leadership summit of the Union of South American Nations, he added, "will be very useful to Colombia and Venezuela in paving the road" to a peaceful resolution of their diplomatic crisis.

The Unasur foreign ministers meeting was the latest step in a diplomatic row stemming from Colombia's claim that some 1,500 guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and National Liberation Army (ELN) -- both of which have been fighting Bogota for decades -- are now operating from Venezuela.

A guard of honour stands next to the coffins of nine navy soldiers during their funeral in Bogota, Colombia after they were killed by Marxist FARC rebels in the south of the country.
A guard of honour stands next to the coffins of nine navy soldiers during their funeral in Bogota, Colombia after they were killed by Marxist FARC rebels in the south of the country.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro said his government had requested the meeting to respond to the "grave threats and grave attacks" on it by the government of President Alvaro Uribe of neighboring Colombia.

While accusing the Uribe government of "slander, manipulation, lies" against Venezuela and its President Hugo Chavez, Maduro said he would propose ways "we can retake the path of peace."

Colombia's Foreign Minister Jaime Bermudez said he would appeal to his South American colleagues for help in preventing Colombian rebel forces from taking refuge in Venezuela, or elsewhere.

"Colombia comes with a clear willingness to ask for an efficient cooperation mechanism so that neither the FARC nor the ELN, nor any criminal group can be present in Venezuelan territory, with the collusion of the authorities, or in any part of the world," Bermudez said.

However, he said he did not have high expectations for the Unasur meeting.

Chavez broke off diplomatic relations with Colombia after denouncing its charges as a pretext for "armed aggression."

Bermudez said his country "has lots of evidence, lots of information" on the guerrilla presence in Venezuela.

Meanwhile, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva announced he would travel to Caracas and Bogota on August 6 for talks with Chavez and Uribe as well as with Colombia's president-elect Juan Manuel Santos, who takes office August 7.

Uribe, however, complained that Lula was approaching the crisis as if it were merely a conflict of personalities.

The Brazilian leader is "ignoring the threat for Colombia and the continent that the presence of FARC terrorists in (Venezuela) represents," he said Thursday in a statement.

"The only solution that Colombia accepts is to not allow the presence of the terrorists... on Venezuelan territory," Uribe said.

Separately, the head of US Southern Command urged Venezuela to investigate charges that leftist guerrilla leaders operate from its territory.

"There is no reason to assume that it is not valid," General Douglas Fraser said in a talk Thursday at a Washington think-tank.

Fraser, who is responsible for all US military activities in Latin America, said the United States was looking at the evidence, saying it was "an allegation that needs to be treated seriously."

Unasur was set up in May 2008 to foster regional cooperation on security issues. It includes Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Surinam and Uruguay.

In November of last year, the group met on an earlier diplomatic rupture between Colombia and Venezuela, this time over a US-Colombian military base agreement that Chavez complained was destabilizing the region

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