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By Patrick Markey
CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said on Thursday three men charged with spying for Colombia will be prosecuted and accused Washington of complicity in a case inflaming tensions between the neighbours.
Caracas says the two Colombians and one Venezuelan were arrested on October 2 on charges they tried to bribe officials to get intelligence on the Venezuelan military for Colombia's DAS state security agency.
"We have captured officials from the DAS Colombian intelligence spying in Venezuela. They are jailed and we are going to put them on trial," Chavez said on Thursday. "Who is behind this? The hand of the United States."
Chavez, a fierce adversary of Washington's influence in Latin America, said this week two agents from the DAS had been arrested in Venezuela. Colombia says only one DAS official is being held and that it was unclear why he was detained.
DAS director Felipe Munoz told Reuters on Wednesday the official had been invited to Venezuela by a friend.
"We're waiting to see what this is all about because officially there are no DAS officials in Venezuela carrying out any activities," he said.
Venezuela's Interior Minister Tarek El Aissami on Thursday presented lawmakers with an internal DAS document that he said offered detailed proof of the spying operation.
TROUBLED HISTORY
Bogota and Caracas often squabble about Colombia's internal conflict and cocaine trafficking spilling over the frontier, but their $7 billion in commerce is usually only temporarily disrupted.
In 2007, two undercover Colombian military officers who had infiltrated Colombia's FARC rebel group were found tortured and shot to death over the Venezuelan frontier.
Tensions boiled over this year when Chavez suspended relations with Bogota and moved to reduce trade over Colombia's plan to allow U.S. troops access to its military bases for counter-narcotics operations.
The accord, expected to be signed this week, stirred concern across the region from Brazil to Chile. Colombia's President Alvaro Uribe has lobbied hard to show the plan is only an extension of existing military U.S. cooperation.
Chavez says he believes the Colombian bases may be used to launch an attack on his OPEC nation.
Uribe, the staunchest U.S. ally in South America, has received billions of dollars in aid from Washington to battle drug traffickers and leftist guerrillas fighting Latin America's oldest surviving insurgency.
The DAS is reeling for scandals involving agents illegally wiretapping Uribe's opponents and top judges. Former DAS officials are also under investigation for collaborating with paramilitary death squads.
(Additional reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta in Bogota; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Xavier Briand)

Reuters