Chavez threat to Colombia after rebel leader killed

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The Independent US

President Hugo Chavez ordered Venezuela's embassy in Colombia to close and sent thousands of troops to the countries' border yesterday after Colombia's military killed a high-ranking rebel leader.

He warned that Colombia's "cowardly murder" of rebel commander, and "good revolutionary" Raul Reyes and 15 others on Saturday could spark a war in South America.

Speaking on his weekly TV and radio program, Mr Chavez ordered his defence minister: "Move 10 battalions to the border with Colombia for me, immediately." He also called Colombia a "terrorist state" and labelled its president, Alvaro Uribe, "a criminal".

The killings happened in Ecuadorian territory, prompting its president, Rafael Correa, to mobilise troops along its Colombian border, Mr Chavez said. "The Colombian government has become the Israel of Latin America," he added.

Mr Chavez maintains warm relations with the Colombia's largest guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, and has sought to play a role as mediator in the conflict despite his growing conflict with Colombia's government.

In November, President Uribe ended Mr Chavez's official role negotiating a proposed hostages-for-prisoners swap with the rebel group.