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Chavez severs relations with Colombia

BOGOTA, Colombia — Venezuela broke relations with Colombia Thursday following accusations by Bogota that Hugo Chavez's government was tolerating the presence of Marxist guerrillas on its territory.

Chavez announced the break following a meeting of the Organization of American States where Colombian officials claimed that FARC rebels had established 87 camps inside Venezuela.

Luis Alfonso Hoyos, Colombia’s ambassador to the OAS, said that instead of breaking relations with Colombia, Chavez — a socialist who admires the FARC — should cut ties with the guerrillas.

Chavez announced his decision in high style — at a Caracas news conference alongside Argentine soccer god Diego Maradona. He dismissed Colombia’s accusations and raised the possibility that Colombian President Alvaro Uribe might set up a fake rebel camp in Venezuela then bombard it in order to provoke a crisis.

“We must be alert because Uribe is a sick man,” Chavez said. “He is capable of anything.”

Thursday’s announcement was just the latest in a long-running war of words between Chavez and Uribe, a pro-U.S. conservative. But Uribe steps down Aug. 7 after eight years in office and his successor, Juan Manuel Santos, wants to normalize relations with Venezuela.

The dispute flared up last week when the Colombian Defense Ministry presented evidence that several top FARC commanders live in Venezuela. But it’s long been known that FARC guerrillas cross into Venezuela to escape from Colombian troops and that top rebel leaders hang out in Chavez-land.

Many pundits here believe Uribe forced the issue because he was upset at the prospect of improved relations with Venezuela once he leaves office. But his efforts will make it far more difficult for the incoming Santos government to reestablish normal diplomatic and commercial ties.