- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 30, 2001

Peru and Venezuela have escalated a nasty diplomatic dispute over last Saturday's capture in a Caracas, Venezuela, suburb of former Peruvian spymaster Vladimiro Montesinos, recalling their ambassadors and accusing each other of bad faith in the cloak-and-dagger episode.
The United States has been dragged into the dispute because the FBI, working with Peruvian government officials without the knowledge of Venezuela, provided critical intelligence that helped locate Mr. Montesinos, who had been the target of an international manhunt since fleeing Lima eight months ago.
After first maintaining the seizure of the Peruvian spy chief was a triumph for his country's intelligence service, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has been increasingly critical of Lima as details emerged of how U.S. and Peruvian officials worked around his government to seize Mr. Montesinos.
"We are outraged," Mr. Chavez said late Thursday evening in announcing the recall of his country's ambassador to Lima in protest.
"Venezuela is a sovereign country, and no police organization can come here and mount an operation behind the back of our government," said Mr. Chavez, whose closeness to Cuban leader Fidel Castro and his autocratic rule at home have put him frequently at odds with Washington.
Peru responded in kind yesterday, recalling its ambassador to Caracas.
"We were victims of real verbal aggression," said Prime Minister Javier Perez de Cuellar.
Considered the continent's most-wanted fugitive, Mr. Montesinos faces a long list of criminal charges back home from his years as intelligence chief to exiled former President Alberto Fujimori, now living in Japan. The charges could include drug trafficking, bribing and blackmailing politicians, and murder of government opponents.
Peruvian Interior Minister Ketin Vidal told a Lima press conference Thursday that two previous operations involving Venezuelan security forces to seize Mr. Montesinos had failed and last weekend's third attempt — based on a tip given by a Miami bank to the FBI — bypassed Venezuela's government.
A last-minute hitch in the planned capture occurred late Saturday evening when Mr. Montesinos' bodyguards unexpectedly delivered their charge to Venezuelan security forces instead of to the Peruvian Embassy in Caracas.
Mr. Montesinos has reportedly developed close alliances with some members of the Venezuelan military, dating back to the days when they were granted asylum in Peru after a failed 1992 coup spearheaded by Mr. Chavez.
After being presented with Mr. Montesinos, Mr. Chavez's government quickly agreed to extradite him to Peru, where he sits in a jail cell waiting to be charged.
William R. Broomfield, deputy assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, tried in a briefing with reporters yesterday to find a balance between the two battling South American capitals.
Venezuelan officials, he said, "had done the right thing" in extraditing Mr. Montesinos once he had been delivered into their hands.
But he said the Bush administration had agreed with Peru's plans to capture the spy chief last weekend without first alerting Mr. Chavez's government.
"We did not challenge or disagree with the assessment of the Peruvian government that the most reliable method to deliver [Mr. Montesinos] into their custody was to deliver him directly to the Embassy of Peru in Caracas," Mr. Broomfield said.
The dispute presents a early challenge for Peru's president-elect, Alejandro Toledo, who now faces tense relations with a key regional partner when he takes office July 28.
Mr. Toledo, traveling in Spain yesterday, said he had been told by Mr. Chavez when he visited Lima recently that Venezuela did not know where Mr. Montesinos was.
"I don't understand how Venezuela would let us get to this level," Mr. Toledo said.

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