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Arms freeze threat -- Part 1

By PYOTR ROMANOV, UPI Outside View Commentator   |   March 14, 2008 at 3:54 PM   |   Comments

MOSCOW, March 14 (UPI) -- Despite sharp words and saber rattling, neither Venezuela nor Colombia has anything to gain from a war. Hopefully, their leaders know that.

Relations between Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela have plunged to new lows after Colombian troops attacked a camp of the left-wing extremist organization the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, in Ecuador on March 1. As many as 24 guerrillas, including a senior FARC commander, were killed in the raid.

The confrontation is not unexpected. Colombia is the hottest spot in Latin America, where many countries have lately elected left-wing governments.

Colombia is the only country on the continent where a powerful guerrilla group -- the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia -- controls a large portion of territory. In the past, it controlled nearly two-thirds of Colombia, but its zone of influence has dwindled to one-third. Despite its rhetoric, the organization has nothing in common with Che Guevara or Marxism and is mainly involved in drug trafficking and kidnappings.

I have been to Colombia and can tell you that politicians, servicemen, businessmen and common people there try to avoid the risk zone, which begins only 9 miles from the capital. It is no wonder that the United States and the European Union have put the FARC on their terrorist lists.

The group is holding many Colombian politicians hostage, including Ingrid Betancourt, a former presidential candidate. Like many FARC hostages, she is reported to be suffering from ill health.

An undeclared war has been raging in the region for decades, and the March 1 raid would not have produced any repercussions if the Colombian troops had not entered Ecuador.

Other countries have been known to do the same with impunity. The United States routinely conducts anti-terrorist operations in foreign territories. Russia has announced its readiness to deliver pre-emptive strikes against terrorists wherever they may be, and Turkey fights Kurds in Iraq.

But Colombia's raid was different. It not only killed the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia's second-in-command, Raul Reyes, but also captured documents proving that the Colombian guerrilla group maintains ties with the authorities in Venezuela and Ecuador -- not that it was much of a secret, anyway.

While the Colombian authorities rely on American assistance in their struggle against the FARC, Ecuador and Venezuela in recent years have taken a more left-wing, and increasingly anti-American, path.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who claims to be a disciple of veteran revolutionary Fidel Castro, has promised to use petrodollars to build socialism in Venezuela. He loves to free hostages under the kind eye of TV cameras, and at the same time helps the drug guerrillas whenever possible.

It is unclear whether the conflict will escalate into a war. Evidently this is the last thing Colombia wants, with its hands full of domestic problems. So it offered its apologies to Ecuador.

Next: Jungle war's threat to military equipment

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(Pyotr Romanov is a political correspondent for RIA Novosti. This article is reprinted by permission of RIA Novosti. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.)

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(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

© 2008 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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