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Venezuela, Colombia in diplomatic row

Friday, January 14, 2005

CARACAS, Venezuela -- Venezuela recalled its ambassador to Colombia after accusing the neighboring country Thursday of sending police to capture a Colombian rebel on Venezuelan soil and bribing local authorities to help.

Venezuelan Interior Minister Jesse Chacon said the latest findings on the Dec. 13 capture of rebel Rodrigo Granda in Caracas show a clear "violation of sovereignty."

He said the abduction was "planned some time ago from Colombia, by Colombian authorities," that police entered Venezuela ahead of time to coordinate the act and that at least one Colombian police officer was in Caracas the day of the capture.

Venezuela's decision came a day after Colombian Defense Minister Jorge Alberto Uribe acknowledged that Granda was nabbed in Caracas and delivered to police in the Colombian border city of Cucuta for an unspecified cash reward. Colombian officials have declined to identify the bounty hunters.

Colombia's government had no official comment Thursday but Uribe has insisted that Colombian agents were not involved in the operation and that it was carried out "without violating Venezuela's sovereignty."

Chacon said five Venezuelan National Guard troops and three army officers were detained for involvement in the kidnapping of Granda, a leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

Investigators found a National Guard commander received a "black bag" presumably filled with money when Granda was handed to authorities Dec. 14 in the Colombian border city of Cucuta, Chacon said.

On Thursday, Chacon said investigators estimated the sum paid was $1 million to $1.5 million. He did not say how they reached that figure.

"This definitely signifies a violation of the sovereignty of the Venezuelan state, which we categorically reject," Chacon said.

Venezuelan Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel charged earlier Thursday that Colombia's government paid "a bribe" to Venezuelan security officials and called it "a crime that could have international implications."

"For now, our ambassador, Gen. Carlos Santiago Ramirez in Bogota, was called back," Rangel said. The ambassador left Wednesday, officials said.

Venezuelan officials said four Colombian police officers were detained in an area frequented by the Granda days before his capture.

The four were suspected of taking pictures of military installations in the city of Maracay, but were later released without being charged.

Chacon said investigators now believe the officers helped lay the groundwork for the abduction.

Meanwhile, the pro-Chavez leftist group Tupamaro Revolutionary Movement on Thursday accused the CIA of involvement in the abduction. A U.S. Embassy spokesman denied U.S. involvement and said the case is a purely Venezuelan-Colombian affair.

The FARC, and the smaller National Liberation Army are battling Uribe's government as well as illegal paramilitary militias in Colombia's 40-year civil war.


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