August 31, 2019

Colombia blames Maduro for sheltering reemerging Farc guerillas
Hardliners from Colombia’s ruling party have told the Telegraph that Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro must be held accountable for harbouring FARC leaders who announced a return to arms, as the country's army killed nine rebels in a raid.  On Thursday, senior commanders from the leftist guerrilla group said they were breaking with the peace deal that saw all but a few dissident factions disarm in 2017, ending one of the world's longest conflicts.  The declaration from Iván Márquez and other high-level figures was allegedly made in a hideout inside Venezuela - reigniting long-running tensions over Caracas's support for the rebels.  Amid a months-long international standoff over Mr Maduro's leadership, the guerrillas' reactivation is now being cited as reason to remove him by force.  “Maduro offers shelter to those who want to bring harm to Colombia. A military intervention with the support of other countries from Latin America is the only solution,” said Senator María Fernanda Cabal, from the Right-wing Democratic Centre party of President Iván Duque. Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, right, greets Ivan Marquez in 2007 Credit:  Gregorio Marrero/ AP The video of Márquez and other commanders toting rifles and declaring a “new chapter” in their armed struggle was, for the Colombian President, proof that the leftist rebels are plotting attacks from Venezuelan soil. While the presence of dissident FARC remnants and the ELN, another Colombian insurgent group, inside Venezuelan territory was previously known, the call from Márquez - the former FARC number two and a chief negotiator of the peace deal - has upped the stakes considerably.  "We're not witnessing the birth of a new guerrilla army, but rather the criminal threats of a band of narco-terrorists, who have the protection and support of Nicolas Maduro's dictatorship," said Mr Duque in a televised address. After Friday's military operation, on a dissident FARC unit in the Colombian south, he said it was intended to send a "clear message" to the group to put down their weapons. Mr Duque has previously rejected the idea of military intervention in Venezuela, fearing it could get Colombia mired in a prolonged conflict that would have scant regional support. But former Democratic Centre senator Alfredo Rangel said there was now "growing support" in the ruling party for such action.  “An armed intervention is the only way out of this,” he said.“Colleagues can see that diplomacy is failing and I think our neighbours in Latin America are beginning to see that too.” Rafael Nieto Loaiza, a former vice minister for justice and key figure in Mr Duque's party, says his hand may be forced. “Duque has said he doesn’t want military action, but it’s possible that the support from the regime in Caracas for dissident Farc and ELN factions may mean he has to re-think his position.” This week's events have also led to an uptick in rhetoric from Washington, where officials reiterated accusations that the Maduro government has been actively conspiring with Colombian rebels. "The regime in Caracas seems to be fomenting this kind of activity, in essence turning over parts of the country, particularly to the ELN," Elliott Abrams, the Trump administration's special envoy to Venezuela, told reporters. "We've known for some time that the FARC and ELN enjoy safe haven inside Venezuela," a senior State Department official added in an interview with Reuters. "And it's even more clear now that they do so with the complicity of the Maduro regime." Juan Guaidó, the leader of Venezuela's opposition-controlled parliament who is recognised as the rightful president by the US and dozens of other countries, said he had warned Washington that the FARC could regroup with Mr Maduro's help. "Unfortunately, these warnings have become a reality," his office said in statement. Although Venezuela has always denied giving sanctuary or support to Colombian guerrillas, demobilised Farc and ELN commanders say the groups have been operational there since Hugo Chávez came to power in 1999. The country provides a safe haven away from the pursuit of the Colombian armed forces, but, with access to lucrative drug trafficking routes and illicit gold mining, the country is also a source of substantial income. The two countries repeatedly came to the brink of war over the issue during the time of Chávez and his hawkish Colombian counterpart, Álvaro Uribe, in what came to be known as the Cold War of the Andes. The departure of both men, and the FARC peace deal, defused the dispute, but Mr Uribe, who founded the current ruling party and handpicked Mr Duque as his candidate, now wields significant political influence once again.  “The conflict could escalate should the FARC rebels receive material and logistical support from Venezuela,” said political analyst Sergio Guzmán. “But this risks a conventional confrontation with Colombia and the US, something which Maduro and his allies are keen to avoid.”
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