- The Washington Times - Monday, October 26, 2009

CARACAS, Venezuela | Venezuela said Sunday that at least 10 members of an amateur Colombian soccer team had been found dead after being kidnapped on its side of the border.

The slayings added another complication to fractious ties between the two South American neighbors.

Venezuela’s leftist president, Hugo Chavez, further stirred things up by calling the Colombian defense minister a “mental retard.”

Venezuela broke off relations and minimized trade with Colombia earlier this year because of the country’s acceptance of U.S. military bases on its soil. Colombia is one of the main U.S. allies in the region, while Mr. Chavez is a highly vocal critic of Washington.

The bodies of the Colombian soccer players, seized Oct. 11, had bullet wounds and were found in western Tachira state, Venezuelan Vice President Ramon Carrizales told reporters.

One of the 12 men survived the ordeal, while another was still missing, Venezuelan authorities said.

Kidnappings and armed disputes are rife on both sides of the frontier, where Colombian guerrilla groups, paramilitary militia and criminal gangs all operate.

Colombia offered to cooperate with Venezuelan authorities in bringing those responsible for the deaths to justice.

“This deplorable act shows that terrorism is international, that it does not respect frontiers,” Colombian President Alvaro Uribe told reporters.

Mr. Chavez, during his weekly television show, expressed outrage at comments on Friday by Colombian Defense Minister Gabriel Silva that most illegal flights hauling Colombian drugs to Central America and the United States were now leaving from Venezuela.

While recognizing Venezuela has become a significant trafficking route, Mr. Chavez’s government is sensitive to repeated charges of not doing enough to tackle the problem.

“He must be a mental retard,” Mr. Chavez said of Mr. Silva during Sunday’s show broadcast on state TV.

“But no, no, he knows what he is doing. He’s following the instructions of the empire because it’s not Colombians who run Colombia, it’s the Yankee empire.”

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