OAS Chief to US Congress: No Venezuela-Terrorist Link


WASHINGTON - There is no evidence linking Venezuela to terrorist groups, the head of the Organization of American States told US lawmakers looking into last month's Colombia-Ecuador border crisis.

"You mean does Venezuela support terrorist groups? I don't think so," OAS chief Jose Miguel Insulza said Thursday during a heated exchange with Florida Representative Connie Mack, who asked if Caracas backed Colombia's FARC rebels that the US and Europe have labeled a terrorist group.

"There is no evidence, and no member country, including this one (United States) has offered the OAS such proof," Insulza added.

The House of Representatives Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere held a hearing on last month's week-long row between Bogota and Quito over Colombia's March 1 military raid on a FARC rebel camp inside Ecuador. Venezuela took Ecuador's side in the crisis.

Bogota claimed that computer files retrieved from the rebel camp showed Venezuela supported FARC's long and bloody struggle to topple the Colombian government, triggering accusations from some US politicians.

Mack and other US lawmakers contend that Venezuela should be added to the US State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism for its alleged support of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

Venezuela has denied any link to FARC, but President Hugo Chavez has been openly sympathetic to the rebel cause and insists FARC be given "belligerant status" and not considered a terrorist group.

Indiana Representative Dan Burton questioned Ecuador's efforts at preventing Colombian rebels from entering its territory, but Insulza came to Quito's defense: "It's not so simple as saying, 'go get rid of them.'"

He explained that due to the rugged remoteness of the jungle terrain in the border area, any anti-guerrilla operation would be very costly, adding: "I'm not so sure it would be possible anyway without destroying a great swath of jungle."

Insulza also defended the OAS from lawmakers' criticism it was ineffectual in the crisis.

"The OAS is no more than what its member countries want it to be," he said, paraphrazing the first OAS secratary general, Alberto Lleras Camargo.

Outside the chamber, speaking to reporters, Insulza criticized US lawmakers for "not knowing the organization's (OAS) goals."

"As with all other international organizations, they want it to do more than it can."

© 2008 Agence France Presse

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