Leaders Hope to Defuse Latin American crisis

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Agence France Presse

Leaders Hope to Defuse Latin American crisis

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SANTO DOMINGO - Latin American leaders hoped Friday to defuse tensions between Colombia and its neighbors Ecuador and Venezuela at a regional summit here amid fears their dispute could erupt into war.0307 10

The leaders of the three countries may meet face to face at the Rio Group summit in Santo Domingo for the first time since the crisis broke out when Colombia struck a FARC rebel camp inside Ecuador last weekend.The war of words pitting Colombia's conservative president, Alvaro Uribe, against the leftist alliance of Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa and Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez has not waned despite global calls for diplomacy.

"We are walking on the path of peace in Latin America and the Caribbean, but the government of Colombia wants war," Chavez said after arriving here late Thursday.

Correa has urged the Rio Group to "clearly condemn" Colombia and to "force (Uribe's) government to never dare attack any other country under any pretext."

The summit of 20 Latin American democracies had been scheduled before the dispute, but regional leaders fully expect to discuss the crisis and hope the three presidents will meet.

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, who is attending the summit, said the gathering should serve as a "space for dialogue and compromise."

The United States has led calls for a peaceful resolution, but Nicaragua on Thursday joined Ecuador and Venezuela in breaking diplomatic relations with Colombia over the incident, in which a senior FARC leader was killed.

"We are breaking with the terrorist policy being practiced by the government of Alvaro Uribe," said Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega.

Since Saturday's attack, Ecuador and Venezuela have sent troops to their borders with Colombia and bombarded Bogota with bellicose language.

Venezuela has ordered 10 battalions -- around 6,000 men -- to the border with Colombia, along with tanks and armored vehicles. Ecuador has also deployed troops to its Colombian frontier.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a Marxist rebel group fighting the Colombian government for four decades, have been reported to hide in Venezuela and Ecuador.

The Washington-based Organization of American States approved a resultion Wednesday saying Colombia had violated Ecuador's sovereignty, but it resolution stopped short of formally condemning Bogota.

The United States has backed Colombia, its staunchest ally in Latin America, since the crisis began and criticized Venezuela's involvement in the dispute.

Colombia has received billions of dollars in US military aid in its fight against drug trafficking and the Marxist rebels.

For his part, Chavez has been a thorn in Washington's side for years, while his relations with Uribe began to deteriorate late last year.

Colombia has accused Venezuela of giving 300 million dollars to FARC, saying a laptop recovered from Saturday's strike, in which FARC number two Raul Reyes was killed, provided the evidence.

Uribe is pushing ahead with an attempt to have Chavez tried by the International Criminal Court for allegedly helping the FARC, which is considered a terrorist group by the United States and European Union.

Chavez has denied the allegation and accused Colombia of committing "a war crime" in attacking the FARC camp inside Ecuador.

© 2008 Agence France Presse

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