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Latin American leaders resolve border crisis

BOGOTA, Colombia – The presidents of Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela on Friday agreed to end a bitter standoff that had resulted in troop deployments, a downturn in trade and a rupture in diplomatic relations.

The crisis began after Colombia bombed a rebel camp last Saturday just inside Ecuador, killing 24 guerrillas, including Luis Edgar Devia, a top commander. The strike marked the first time the army had killed a member of the directorate of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, a guerrilla group that has been fighting here for 44 years.

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe had come under criticism from various Latin American governments for the incursion, but at a regional summit in the Dominican Republic on Friday he heartily shook hands with Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega. All three of those nations had broken relations with Colombia over the incident.

The resolution of the crisis, at a meeting of the 20-nation Rio Group, came in the form of a declaration that noted Uribe had apologized for the raid and that he promised never to violate another nation’s border. “With the apology and the promise of never again violating a brother country, we have overcome this very grave crisis,” said Correa, in comments that were broadcast live across much of Latin America.

Although the meeting ended on a positive note, the most serious issue raised in the debate – that Colombian rebels operate with the help of foreign governments – has not been resolved and is sure to fester.

The news came soon after the Defense Ministry in Bogota reported the death of a second member of the FARC’s top command. Manuel Jesus Munoz, better known by his nom de guerre, Ivan Rios, did not die in battle, but rather was killed by his own men earlier this week in a mountainous, coffee-growing region of north-central Colombia, Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos told reporters.

The slaying appeared to reflect serious internal divisions in an organization that has in recent months seen several seasoned, mid-level commanders killed in combat and hundreds more desert.

Colombian officials said that Munoz’s men, tired of running from troops, decided to kill him. Santos said they then severed his hand and presented it, along with Munoz’s identification card and computer, to an army column that had been pursuing the guerrillas. The United States had placed a $5 million bounty on Munoz’s head, accusing him of coordinating drug trafficking operations.

The issue of Colombian guerrillas and whether they are harbored by Venezuela and Ecuador marked the often heated exchanges at Friday’s summit, which had been scheduled previously. Ecuador, Venezuela and Nicaragua focused on Colombia’s violation of Ecuador’s sovereignty, while Colombia said that its people are under threat from rebels hiding outside its borders.