- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 18, 2007

SANTA CRUZ, Bolivia - Colombian security officials say leftist rebels are capitalizing on the institutional weakness of neighboring Ecuador to set up supply routes for weapons and explosives along the two countries’ common border.

The Colombian army reports it has uncovered major stores of arms and explosives at various locations in Putumayo province, just a few miles from the border.

Military officials say the caches belong to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known by its Spanish acronym FARC. The finds have included about 1,000 pounds of high-grade explosives rigged for sophisticated bombs, according to Colombia’s official army news agency.

Security officials suspect that explosives smuggled from Ecuador may have been used in a car bombing last week that destroyed a police station in Cali, killing one person and wounding 34.

“The recent car bombing in Cali and continuous combat along Narino and the Pacific coast indicate that the entire frontier zone has become the principal strategic corridor of FARC against the military offensive of the Colombian government,” said a high-ranking Colombian intelligence officer who asked not to be identified.

“The political instability and institutional weakness in Ecuador are aiding this purpose,” the officer said.

Peruvian officials say they are investigating a major arms-trafficking ring operating in Peru, Ecuador and Colombia. According to chief prosecutor Jose Luis Azanero, explosives, assault rifles, anti-tank rockets and hand grenades stolen from Peruvian military arsenals are being transported to Ecuador, where they are transferred to FARC.

Three Ecuadoran citizens as well as one Peruvian police lieutenant have so far been accused of participating in the arms-smuggling ring headed by Gilma Montenegro, who is an important supplier of FARC, according to Mr. Azanero.

Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa was elected on a far-left platform and on Sunday won a referendum to write a new constitution based on the model established by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, an anti-American firebrand.

Mr. Correa denies that Colombian rebels are operating from his territory, but he does not consider FARC a terrorist organization and refuses to cooperate with Colombian counterinsurgency efforts, which he claims are a U.S. pretext to “invade the region.”

“Terrorists, no,” he said when questioned about FARC in a recent radio interview. “They are guerrillas fighting a war.”

FARC spokesmen have been open in their appreciation for Mr. Correa and his government. The movement sent him an open letter offering condolences after the recent accidental death of his defense minister, Guadalupe Lariva, who had been accused of dealings with the Colombian rebels.

“She stood out for her loyalty to the revolutionary cause. Her example, flags and ideals will wave with more strength in our camps,” FARC said.

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