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Venezuela offered aid to rebels, files show

Thu., May 15, 2008

CARACAS, Venezuela – High-ranking officials in Venezuela offered to help Colombian guerrillas obtain surface-to-air missiles meant to change the balance of power in their war with the Colombian government, according to internal rebel documents.

Venezuelan officials served as middlemen with Australian arms dealers and agreed to help the rebel commanders travel to the Middle East to receive missile training, according to files on computer hard drives seized by Colombian authorities and shown to the Washington Post. In interviews, Colombian officials said they have no evidence that the guerrillas obtained the antiaircraft missiles but added that Venezuelan authorities appear to have provided light arms, thousands of rounds of ammunition and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.

The disclosures have already started to reverberate in the Bush administration and among Latin America policymakers on Capitol Hill, where a small group of Republicans has proposed classifying Venezuela, a major oil exporter to the United States, as a state sponsor of terrorism. The United States and Europe long ago blacklisted the rebel organization, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, as a terrorist group.

At Colombia’s request, Interpol, the international police agency, has completed an extensive forensic analysis on the hard drives, which were confiscated in an army raid on a rebel camp on March 1. Interpol is expected to announce today that there is no evidence that anyone tampered with the hard drives after they were seized, though the agency cannot vouch for the veracity of the rebels’ claims, according to an American official knowledgeable about the study.

The documents are the latest to be released among 16,000 files and photographs being reviewed by Colombian and U.S. officials that describe meetings between FARC commanders and Venezuelan officials, including Interior Minister Ramon Rodriguez Chacin; the military intelligence chief, Gen. Hugo Carvajal; other top generals such as Cliver Alcala; and Amilkar Figueroa, who organizes Venezuela’s civilian militias.

President Hugo Chavez, who has publicly lauded the FARC and characterized Colombia’s government as illegitimate, on Sunday ridiculed the latest batch of correspondence as “imbecilic documents.” He cast Colombian President Alvaro Uribe as a “manipulator” linked to drug trafficking and charged that the Bush administration is using the documents as a pretext to invade Venezuela from Colombia.


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