BOGOTA (AFP) — Bogota Wednesday formally protested Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's support for Colombian guerrillas, telling him to "stop attacking" Colombia and interfering in its internal affairs.
"The Colombian government asks President Hugo Chavez to stop attacking our country," Foreign Minister Fernando Araujo said, reading from a formal protest statement.
Chavez "confuses cooperation with interference, as he confused mediation with favoritism," Araujo added, referring to Chavez' call for countries to stop branding leftist Colombian rebel groups as terrorists, and to his mediation role in a proposed prisoner swap deal with the FARC rebels that Bogota terminated in December.
Chavez last week described the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN) as legitimate armies with political goals that must be respected, and urged governments to remove the terror label.
Chavez, who helped engineer FARC's release last Thursday of two Colombian politicians, said the guerrilla groups "are not any terrorist body, they are real armies that occupy territory in Colombia."
"They must be recognized, they are insurgent forces that have a political project ... which here is respected," he added.
Colombian President Alvaro Uribe flatly rejected the call, which came amid news of six new kidnappings in northwestern Colombia possibly by FARC guerrillas, who have been fighting the government for more than 40 years and hold some 750 people hostage.
Chavez "doesn't miss a chance to mistreat Colombia, its government and Colombian leaders," while he "is unaware of the guerrillas' acts of terrorism, their involvement in drug trafficking and crimes against humanity," said Araujo.
Those crimes, he added, include kidnapping Venezuelans in their own country.
The statement also accused Chavez of trying to distort Colombia's gains in its fight against rebel groups, whose defeat, he added, "is not long in coming."
The foreign minister said that despite Chavez's attacks and criticism, the Uribe administration would "insist through diplomatic channels in establishing a constructive ... dialogue with the government of Venezuela."
Peace Commissioner Luis Carlos Restrepo, who earlier Wednesday announced Colombia's protest to Chavez, said the Venezuelan leader had broken Organization of American States and United Nations rules against foreign interference in government affairs.
He said Colombia and Venezuela are both duty-bound to abide by the rules, which demand a commitment to fight any group financed by drug trafficking such as FARC and ELN.
A group of protesters outside the Venezuelan Embassy in Bogota drove the government's point home, chanting in Spanish rhyme: "Don't take them off the list, the FARC are real terrorists."
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