- The Washington Times - Monday, November 25, 2002

CARACAS, Venezuela Dissident military officers say the government of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has provided intelligence help and unhindered operations in Venezuelan territory to guerrilla groups fighting the government of neighboring Colombia.
Several of the officers, who recently declared themselves in disobedience and demanded Mr. Chavez's resignation, say the government also has opposed their efforts to combat guerrillas active on Venezuelan territory.
Also, the Colombian newsmagazine Cambio reported recently that the Vene-zuelan military had sold and at times even given planeloads of arms to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which is classified as a terrorist group by the U.S. government.
Retired Gen. Alberto Mueller said the Venezuelan attitude has been motivated by long-standing border disputes with Colombia. The principle is "the enemy of my enemy is my friend," he said.
Mr. Chavez has not publicly addressed the dissident officers' charges, some of which have been published by Venezuelan news outlets.
However, he has accused the officers of intending to carry out a coup. In the past, Mr. Chavez has denied all charges of support for Colombian guerrillas.
National Assembly Deputy Edis Rios Becerra, a member of Mr. Chavez's Fifth Republic Movement party who represents the border state of Zulia and serves on the assembly's defense commission, says the military does all it can to prevent guerrilla activity in Venezuela.
The armed forces "are in condition and obligation to repel any Colombian guerrilla action," he said.
But Gen. Nestor Gonzalez, who until late last year commanded operations in an area along the Colombian frontier, said that in May 2001 his troops detected several guerrilla encampments in Venezuelan territory, but top government officials resisted taking action against them.
"The most pathetic part of the situation was that when Hugo Chavez was advised, he took no measures and asked, 'How can we cohabit with the guerrillas?'" Gen. Gonzalez said. "That for me was unacceptable."
Ultimately, Gen. Gonzalez said, he was able to carry out an operation against the guerrillas and the drug plantations they sponsor but still experienced resistance from higher up.
Later, he said, he discovered that agents of the national police service, the DISIP, were working in his region, collecting military information on Colombia and passing it to the guerrillas.
"The intelligence organizations put themselves on the side of the guerrillas, and being on the guerrillas' side, they opposed the Colombian army, and we couldn't accept that," Gen. Gonzalez said.
As a result of his protests of these policies, Gen. Gonzalez said, in August 2001 he was transferred to direct the military school in Caracas.
Colombia's 38-year-old civil war pits two guerrilla armies, the FARC and the smaller National Liberation Army, against the U.S.-backed Colombian government and its outlawed paramilitary allies.
All the fighting groups have been accused of human rights violations in the war, which kills thousands of people each year, most of them civilians, and the three irregular forces are classified as terrorist groups by the U.S. government.
The United States recently loosened restrictions to permit anti-drug aid to be used directly against the guerrillas and paramilitaries. The United States also plans to train Colombian troops near the Venezuelan border to protect an oil pipeline that guerrillas have bombed more than 100 times in recent years.
Reports of guerrilla encampments located in Venezuelan territory have continued, and early this year a Colombian general said his troops had been attacked by guerrillas from Venezuelan soil. Mr. Chavez called the accusation a lie.
Another dissident officer, Gen. Pedro Pereira, former chief of staff of the armed forces' unified command, said that early this year a military plane suffered mechanical troubles and crashed in Venezuelan territory near the border. The military started a search for the plane, Gen. Pereira said, but the Ministry of Defense ordered it halted.
"I suppose that they didn't want the armed forces to go farther into there," said Gen. Pereira, who believes the guerrillas have camps and arms stores hidden in the region. "It's quite obvious that [the government] is looking for a way to favor the guerrillas in that area."
Gen. Pereira said the FARC located the plane and then indicated its location to the Venezuelan military.
A third dissident, Marco Antonio Ferreira, a national guard officer and former director of the agency in charge of monitoring the entry and exit of foreigners in Venezuela, said that many Colombians, some of whom he suspected were guerrillas, were given free transit across Venezuela.
The most dramatic and specific recent charges were reported this month in Cambio, based on sworn declarations to Colombian prosecutors by a FARC defector known as "the Technician."
The Technician said that in June 2001 a group of Venezuelan military officers visited FARC guerrilla encampments to negotiate the sale of machine guns, shells and explosives.
As a result, the Technician said, by early this year a single border-area FARC runway was receiving as many as six small plane flights from Venezuela per day, each loaded with 14 boxes of submachine gun shells.
The Technician said some of the arms shipments were given to FARC, Cambio reported. The dissident Venezuelan officers said weapons have disappeared from military warehouses, although where they have gone is not clear.
Accusations that the leftist Mr. Chavez supports Colombia's guerrillas, which want to install a Marxist government, have dogged him for years.
Although Mr. Chavez has repeatedly called the reports unfounded, they have aggravated relations with Colombia and the United States, Venezuela's two largest trading partners.
Venezuela is one of the United States' top petroleum suppliers, and the U.S. government has had an often-touchy relationship with the populist Mr. Chavez, who has befriended several U.S. enemies, including Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
Venezuelan border-area residents say that shortly after assuming power, Mr. Chavez declared a sort of truce with the guerrillas, who had previously carried out several massacres of Venezuelan troops.
There also have been repeated reports of contacts between the Chavez government and Colombian guerrillas. The FARC have, in turn, signaled support for Mr. Chavez's Bolivarian Revolution through pro-Chavez transmissions from clandestine guerrilla radio stations located along the border.
Gen. Gonzalez said that in May he received a message from a FARC leader saying the guerrillas were friendly toward Venezuela's military and would not attack them. Gen. Gonzalez said he did not reply.


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