Regional tensions increased Sunday as Venezuela and Ecuador boosted military deployment on their Colombian borders, following Colombia's anti-rebel action along its border with Ecuador.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Sunday he was immediately sending troops, tanks and fighter aircraft to the Colombian frontier. "We don't want a war, but we are not going to allow them to violate our territorial sovereignty," he said during his weekly TV and radio program
Chavez said Ecuador was also moving troops to its northern border (with Colombia), adding that his Ecuadorian counterpart Rafael Correa could "count on Venezuela for whatever it needs, in any situation."
Chavez also ordered the closure of the Venezuelan embassy in the Colombian capital Bogota.
Chavez's remarks came after the Colombian military killed Raul Reyes, second-in-command of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the country's largest anti-government group, in an attack on a jungle camp across the Colombia-Ecuador border on Saturday. Ecuador has recalled its ambassador to Bogota, calling the raid a violation of its territorial sovereignty while warning that the Colombian action may result in "ultimate consequences."
It could be the start of a South American war, warned Chavez, who has been engaged in a dispute with his Colombian counterpart Alvaro Uribe, sparked by the FARC hostage issue.
Chavez had been trying to mediate between FARC and the Colombian government for the release of hundreds of hostages.
However, Uribe abruptly called a halt to Chavez's mediatory role last November, alleging that the Venezuelan president had spoken directly with a Colombian general about the hostage issue, in violation of their agreement.
Chavez responded by putting bilateral ties "in the freezer" and withdrew the Venezuelan ambassador from Bogota, saying Colombia deserved a better president.
Despite his war of words with Uribe, Chavez has this year helped facilitate the unilateral release of six high-profile hostages by FARC.