- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Ecuador’s foreign minister said yesterday she was disappointed but not surprised by Washington’s strong backing of neighboring Colombia’s military strike earlier this month against leftist rebels holed up on Ecuador’s side of the border.

But Maria Isabel Salvador said on a visit here that Quito had won a “clear diplomatic victory” when the Organization of American States earlier this month passed a resolution calling the incursion by Colombian security forces March 1 as a violation of Ecuador’s sovereignty and a threat to its territorial integrity.

“It does not surprise us that the U.S. government has supported the Colombian government, because the Colombian government has aligned itself with the United States in all its policies,” Mrs. Salvador said, speaking in Spanish at a briefing hosted by the Inter-American Dialogue.

The Clinton and Bush administrations have targeted billions of dollars in aid to Bogota to fight drug trafficking and bolster the government in its 40-year fight against the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC. Center-right Colombian President Alvaro Uribe is a key U.S. ally on the continent.

The March 1 strike killed FARC leader Raul Reyes, the guerrilla group’s second-in-command, and an estimated 20 other fighters, but sparked a crisis when both Ecuador and Venezuela protested the attack and rushed troops to the border.

Colombian officials say they acted because the FARC and other rebel groups were finding safe haven across the border. President Bush backed Colombia and accused populist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez of trying to exacerbate the crisis.

Latin America “is facing an increasingly stark choice — to quietly accept the vision of the terrorists and the demagogues or to actively support democratic leaders like President Uribe,” Mr. Bush said in a speech last week.

Ecuadorean officials noted that Mr. Bush telephoned Mr. Uribe to offer his support, but has yet to contact Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa.

The OAS resolution fell short of Ecuadorean hopes to “condemn” the Colombian attack, and also was silent about Venezuela’s role as the crisis unfolded. Wording on the compromise resolution was approved in the early hours yesterday morning.

Yesterday’s resolution builds on a tension-easing summit of Latin American leaders March 7 in the Dominican Republic, although Ecuador still has not restored full diplomatic ties with Colombia.

Mrs. Salvador denied charges that her government had been providing sanctuary to the FARC rebels or that Quito had held informal talks with rebel leaders.

She said Colombia has refused to share data from laptop computers they say were found at the FARC camp. Colombian officials say records on the laptops indicate contacts between the guerrillas and both Ecuador and Venezuela.

“We reject this emphatically,” she said. “We have been given no proof, nothing that can be verified about these charges.”

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