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Chavez to meet Pastrana amid further accusations of aid to Colombian rebels.

CARACAS -- President Hugo Chavez is slated to meet Colombian counterpart Andres Pastrana this weekend in a bid to reduce tensions between the two nations, but new allegations about the Venezuelan government's relations with leftist guerrillas across the border will cast a long shadow over the talks.

A week after the government became enmeshed in a scandal over its treatment of a suspected Colombian hijacker (See Americas Insider, March 15, 2001, page 1) there are new charges the government helped a high-ranking Colombian guerrilla escape to safety after being wounded during a Colombian Air Force bombing raid last July.

According to press reports, The guerrilla, German Briceno Suarez, whose nom de guerre is Grannobles), was flown out of Colombia to Maracaibo, from where he was flown to Cuba for treatment. There are reports that the Colombian Red Cross, possibly with the knowledge of some in the government, arranged the evacuation.

Grannobles is wanted for a variety of high-profile crimes in Colombia, Venezuela and the United States. He is believed to have carried out two hijackings of Venezuelan passenger planes in 1998 and 1999, and is implicated in the murders of three Americans who were working with Colombian indigenous rights groups in 1999. A high-ranking leader of Colombia's largest guerrilla army, FARC, Grannobles is the brother of Mono Jojoy one of FARC's top leaders.

Chavez ally oversees operations

Leaked Venezuelan intelligence reports show that the operation was overseen by retired Navy Captain Ramon Rodriguez Chacin, a supposed liaison for Chavez with the FARC and the smaller ELN. Although Rodriguez Chacin is nominally an officer with the state security police Disip, he reportedly operates outside the force's regular chain of command and reports directly to Chavez. Previous Colombian press reports claim that he has at times traveled inside Colombian territory, negotiating with top FARC leaders without the knowledge of the Colombian government.

The choice to send Grannobles to Cuba is interesting. The Cuban government's relations with the FARC have long been frosty as Cuba helped create FARC's rival, the ELN, in the 1960s. The fact that Cuba agreed to treat a high-ranking FARC commander indicates the measure of influence Chavez has in Cuba and could suggest his administration has worked to improve Cuba's relations with the FARC.

In addition to the Grannobles incident, Caracas daily El Universal also reported the arrest and subsequent release of an ELN guerrilla, Luis Rojas Losada, known as Marcial. Arrested by Venezuelan Military Intelligence officers as he received treatment for combat wounds at a Venezuelan hospital, Marcial was soon turned over to DISIP and released. Marcial allegedly had been involved in a series of high-profile kidnapping cases in Venezuela.

The new wave of allegations surfaced after Chavez downplayed the government's handling of the arrest of alleged ELN hijacker Jose Maria Ballestas. Chavez in public comments called it an isolated incident of no importance.

Colombian anger grows

Pastrana recently said the Ballestas case will be part of the talks between the two leaders, which will also touch on trade, immigration and other issues. Sources say Pastrana also will question Chavez on the activities of Rodriguez Chacin. Although accusations that Venezuela is abetting Colombia's guerrillas are the subject of rumor and speculation, the details of the Ballestas case are relatively well known. The most recent revelations seem to indicate a growing willingness of the Venezuelan government to become involved in the conflict in Colombia. And this could only lead to worsening relations and greater violence in the region.
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Publication:America's Insider
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:3VENE
Date:Mar 22, 2001
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