Venezuela's Chavez accuses Colombia, US of plot

AP News
Posted: Dec 28, 2009 5:54 PM

President Hugo Chavez is accusing Colombia and the United States of plotting to set up a fake rebel camp on Venezuelan soil to discredit his government.

Chavez accused Colombia of preparing what he called a "false positive" operation, saying on Monday that it's feasible the neighboring country could build a makeshift camp in a remote location, then plant corpses and guns to make it look like a rebel camp had been discovered.

Colombian officials have said that leftist rebel commanders from their country are taking refuge in Venezuela. Chavez says the officials are falsely trying to portray him as being in cahoots with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, which Colombia has been battling for decades.

"The verbal war against Venezuela began weeks ago, saying that we have I don't know how many guerrilla chiefs hidden here ... that in Venezuela there are rebel camps protected by the Venezuelan government, which is absolutely false," Chavez told troops during a televised speech in the western border state of Zulia.

"We have evidence that the Colombian government, instructed and supported, or rather directed by the United States, is preparing a 'false positive,'" Chavez said.

He said he believes Colombia could bring bodies "to a mountain in Venezuelan territory, build some huts, an improvised camp, put some rifles there ... and say 'There it is, the guerrilla camp in Venezuela.'"

Last year, Colombian troops raided a FARC camp inside Ecuador, killing 25 people including a FARC commander. That attack triggered sharp tensions with Ecuador and Venezuela.

Chavez's accusations are the latest in a protracted diplomatic conflict with Colombia that has led to a sharp drop in trade this year and has prompted the Venezuelan leader to warn of a possible armed conflict.

Chavez has accused Colombian President Alvaro Uribe's government of allowing the United States to expand its military presence at its bases to prepare a possible attack against Venezuela.

Both the U.S. and Colombia say the American troops are solely aiding Colombia to combat drug trafficking and guerrillas internally. They both have repeatedly denied planning to invade Venezuela and his opponents have accused Chavez of using an invasion threat to distract attention from domestic problems.

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Chavez addressed troops at Fort Mara, where he said a group of soldiers recently reported spotting an unmanned spy plane.

Colombian Defense Minister Gabriel Silva has ridiculed that claim, saying Venezuelan troops might have mistaken Santa's sleigh for a drone and that his military doesn't have aircraft that could perform such an espionage mission.

Soldiers who stood facing Chavez displayed some of the weapons that Venezuela has recently bought from Russia, including shoulder-fired Igla-S surface-to-air missiles and Dragunov sniper rifles. Chavez said his military now has thousands of Igla-S weapons.

"They're defensive weapons. This is like the boxer's jab," Chavez said.

He said the military will soon be receiving new arms including Russian-made T-72 tanks.

Venezuela has already bought more than $4 billion worth of Russian arms since 2005, including 24 Sukhoi fighter jets, dozens of helicopters and 100,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles. In September, Russia agreed to lend Venezuela $2.2 billion to buy more weapons.