Reuters. 31 January 2002. Chavez: Colombian Rebel Contacts

CARACAS -- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said his country's armed
forces have met with Colombian guerrillas in "humanitarian missions" to
free kidnap victims, but he denied opponents' claims he was
collaborating with the leftist rebels.

Chavez, who spoke in Bolivia late on Wednesday, was commenting on a
video released in Caracas by four opposition journalists that allegedly
showed a Venezuelan military team negotiating with FARC guerrillas
inside Colombia in July 2000.

Opponents of Chavez have frequently accused him of sympathizing with
Colombia's Marxist rebels and even of cooperating with them.

Although Chavez has hotly denied any formal links, these alleged
sympathies have on occasions strained relations between the two
neighboring Andean nations. However, they have both made efforts
recently to improve ties.

The Venezuelan president, who spoke after attending a summit of Andean
leaders in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, said he had not seen the video released
Wednesday by the four prominent media critics of his government.

But he added: "I wouldn't be surprised if Venezuelans turned up on some
part of the frontier on a humanitarian mission to free kidnapped

In remarks published on Thursday in Caracas by the presidential press
office, Chavez said it was "absolutely false that I have a pact with
Colombian guerrillas or that I support them, or give them arms."

His government has openly supported Colombian president Andres
Pastrana's efforts to end the 38-year-old war pitting leftist rebels
against the army and right-wing paramilitaries which has killed 40,000
people in the last decade.

The video released by the four Venezuelan journalists showed a Colombian
FARC rebel commander, Ruben Zamora, receiving a delegation of soldiers
and civilians who identified themselves as Venezuelan military
intelligence officers.

In a meeting which Zamora said took place on July 6, 2000, they
discussed the handover of a Venezuelan national accused of collaborating
with right-wing paramilitaries in Colombia.

"If that's the case, I wouldn't be surprised, and if we have to carry on
doing it, for humanitarian reasons, then we will," Chavez said in Santa

The four journalists who presented the video, Patricia Poleo, Ibeyise
Pacheco, Marianella Salazar and Martha Colomina, said it showed the
Chavez government was collaborating with the rebels behind the back of
the Colombian government.

Colombian newspapers on Thursday prominently reported the presentation
of the video and Colombia's ambassador to Caracas, German Bula, said his
government was evaluating its contents.

The four journalists said they had received the video from disgruntled
officers within the Venezuelan military.

Pacheco, who did not identify the source of the tape, said Venezuela's
armed forces "want nothing to do with Colombian guerrillas."

She said the Venezuelan military was also "indignant and concerned''
over the recent appointment of Ramon Rodriguez Chacin, a retired Naval
intelligence officer with close ties to Chavez, as Interior and Justice

Chacin has acted in the past as a Venezuelan government intermediary in
successful negotiations to release kidnap victims held in Colombia.

Chavez said Venezuela had been involved in the release of a U.S. citizen
held in Colombia and had also been asked by Germany for similar

The Venezuelan leader has in the past accused the Colombian and
Venezuelan media of trying to discredit him by suggesting he has links
with Colombia's anti-government Marxist rebels.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Barry Stoller

Reply via email to