Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Colombia: Latin America Tries to Defuse Escalating Crisis

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Colombia: Latin America Tries to Defuse Escalating Crisis

Article excerpt

Latin American countries are rushing to defuse the region's worst diplomatic crisis in years after Ecuador and Venezuela cut ties with Colombia, deployed troops to the borders, and issued warnings of war in the wake of Colombia's airstrike Saturday on leftist rebels based in neighboring Ecuador.

The Organization of American States (OAS) moved to hold an emergency meeting Tuesday to press for a peaceful solution, but in the current heated atmosphere, some experts expect the issue to move quickly to the United Nations Security Council.

Colombia's President Alvaro Uribe accused Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Tuesday of "sponsoring and financing genocide" after Colombian officials said Saturday's raid turned up evidence that Mr. Chavez paid $300 million to support the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebel group.

While most observers consider full-scale war unlikely, they warn that the bluster and saber rattling could ruin efforts to climb down from the current crisis.

"Rhetoric, when it reaches a certain level, is in and of itself a concern," says Peter DeShazo, the director of the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "To move things in a positive direction [the countries must] stop the verbal confrontations."

Colombia initially apologized for Saturday's incursion that killed a senior FARC leader, Raul Reyes, but then claimed Monday that documents found on computers seized in the raid showed that Chavez had funded the guerrillas and that Ecuador's leftist leader Rafael Correa (a Chavez ally) had sent a minister to meet with the rebels. Colombian police also say they found evidence that the FARC had been trying to get radioactive material for dirty bombs. Ecuador and Venezuela deny the allegations.

Ecuador marshals regional support

Mr. Correa arrived in Peru on Tuesday to start a five-nation tour of the region to lobby for support against what he calls a premeditated violation of his country's sovereignty.

"This is not a bilateral problem, it's a regional problem," he said. "Should this set a precedent, Latin America will become another Middle East."

Ecuador will seek a resolution at the OAS condemning Colombia for violating its territory, says Vicente Torrijos, an international relations expert in Bogota. Colombia, he says, will defend itself on the basis of a UN antiterrorism resolution that prohibits states from "providing any form of support, active or passive, to entities or persons involved in terrorist acts."

Mr. Uribe reportedly spent the day Monday on the phone with regional leaders explaining his country's position. Colombia is expected to present further evidence of Venezuela and Ecuador's alleged support of the FARC at the OAS meeting.

Mr. Torrijos sees the conflict eventually being taken up by the UN Security Council and even envisions sanctions on Venezuela and Ecuador under the antiterrorism resolution.

Carlos Luna, a foreign affairs expert at the Central University of Venezuela in Caracas, says that the nations must work hard not to internationalize the conflict. "Siding of countries along ideological lines could cause lasting effects on the region," he says.

Ideology behind the tensions

But politics has driven much of the current meltdown. Chavez, who on his Sunday radio program said that it would be a cause for war if Colombia attempted a similar raid on Venezuelan territory, has been criticized for meddling. …

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