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Venezuela Accuse Colombia of War Crimes

CARACAS - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez accused his Colombian counterpart of war crimes as Venezuela and Ecuador turned up the heat on Bogota over its military strike on a insurgent camp inside Ecuador.

"A war crime occurred there," Chavez charged late Wednesday at a joint press conference with Ecuadoran counterpart Rafael Correa in Caracas, where the two men discussed the crisis."We also want peace, but we cannot accept under any pretext that the Colombian government uses Ecuadoran territory to implant imperialist doctrine," added Chavez in reference to Colombia's ally, the United States.

Correa urged the international community to issue a "clear condemnation" of Colombia for its cross-border incursion, as both countries boosted their military presence on their respective borders with Colombia.

Correa welcomed a statement by the 34-member Organization of American States (OAS) saying Colombia had violated Ecuador's sovereignty as an "important first step" -- but he demanded more.

"If Ecuador doesn't get satisfaction, we'll know how to exact it with our own methods, and the OAS and the international community, by their silence and omissions, will be the guilty ones," Correa said.

Colombia's attack Saturday on a camp of Colombian leftist rebels located just inside Ecuador killed the group's number-two and sparked a diplomatic crisis.

Bogota claimed, after seizing laptops in the raid, that Ecuador and Venezuela had been providing support to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), who have been fighting Colombia's government for four decades.

Both Quito and Caracas denied the claims, expelled Colombia's ambassadors and cut off diplomatic ties.

Ecuador and Venezuela moved troops to their respective borders with Colombia, which in turn received verbal support from the United States as regional diplomats scrambled to defuse the crisis.

Venezuelan military officials confirmed Wednesday that 10 army battalions -- around 6,000 men -- had been sent to the Colombian frontier.

Colombian Vice President Francisco Santos, speaking in Brussels, said his country would not "cede to provocation", while the White House said it was "a little bit premature" to consider US military aid.

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has called for Chavez to be tried by the International Criminal Court for allegedly paying 300 million dollars to the FARC, on the basis of documents he said were in a rebel laptop.

On Wednesday, he met four experts to draft the formal demand, one of whom said Colombia had "enough information" to show Chavez provided "intentional and systematic help to a terrorist organization."

Chavez said the threat of an ICC trial made him laugh.

"I challenge Uribe to see who comes out condemned for supporting genocide, violence, paramilitaries, invasions of other countries, I've lost count," he said.

But Chavez said that despite the row with Colombia, he would continue working for the release of more FARC hostages.

The rebels recently released six hostages to Chavez, but still hold around 700 more, including Ingrid Betancourt, a dual French-Colombian national kidnapped in 2002 as she campaigned for the Colombian presidency.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, speaking on Colombian television, on Thursday encouraged the FARC to continue what he called its "strategy of humanitarian release".

A military official in Colombia subsequently announced that the FARC had freed four Colombian tourists who had been seized in northwestern Colombia in January.

© 2008 Agence France Presse

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