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By Jose Miguel Gomez
CUCUTA, Colombia (Reuters) - Colombian President Alvaro Uribe on Saturday ruled out any military retaliation against Venezuela after Venezuelan troops dynamited two cross-border footbridges.
"The fellow republic of Venezuela will never hear any aggression from the people or the government of Colombia," Uribe said at an event in the border town of Cucuta. "We will never restrict our frontier to our Venezuelan brothers."
Venezuela says its troops this week blew up two illegal footbridges that cross over the border because they had been used by drug traffickers and smugglers.
Colombia criticized the action as an aggression and said it would denounce it before the United Nations and the Organisation of American States.
Ties between the two countries have soured over a Colombian plan to allow U.S. troops more access to its bases. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a fierce critic of American influence in the region, says it sets the stage for a possible attack against his OPEC nation.
Tensions run high on the 1,375-mile (2,200-km) border, an area rife with Colombian FARC rebels still fighting a four-decade-old war and other groups engaged in smuggling cocaine, guns and other contraband.
The leftist Chavez has ordered his military leaders to prepare for war, a move he says is just a response to the base plan. Uribe, a conservative, counters that the base deal is an extension of current military cooperation with Washington.
Analysts say Chavez may be stirring up tensions to distract from domestic troubles such as power and water shortages that are threatening to dent his popularity.
The two leaders have in the past managed to work out their differences with handshakes and backslaps. But the current crisis triggered by the U.S.-Colombia plan has curbed their $7 billion (4.3 billion pounds) per year in bilateral trade, making it harder to resolve swiftly.
(Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta; Writing by Patrick Markey in Bogota; Editing by Xavier Briand)

Reuters