By Telegraph UK
President Hugo Chavez has ordered Venezuela’s military to prepare for a possible armed conflict with Colombia, saying his country’s soldiers should be ready if the United States attempts to provoke a war between the South American neighbours.
Mr Chavez said Venezuela could end up going to war with Colombia as tensions between them rise, and he warned that if a conflict broke out “it could extend throughout the whole continent”.
“The best way to avoid war is preparing for it,” Mr Chavez told military officers during his weekly television and radio program. Venezuela’s socialist leader has also cited a recent deal between Bogota and Washington giving US troops greater access to military bases as a threat to regional stability.
There was no immediate reaction from either the Colombian or US government, but in the past they have denied intentions to start a war with Venezuela and said the base deal is needed to fight the war on drugs and insurgents in Colombia, which is a major cocaine producer struggling with a decades-old internal conflict.
Tensions along the Venezuela-Colombia border have been exacerbated in recent weeks by a series of shootings and slayings.
Four men on motorcycles shot and killed two Venezuelan National Guard troops at a checkpoint near the border in Venezuela’s western Tachira state last week, prompting Chavez’s government to temporarily close some border crossings.
And last month, Venezuelan authorities arrested at least 10 people in Tachira alleging involvement in paramilitary groups. The bullet-ridden bodies of 11 men, nine of them Colombians, were also found last month in Tachira after being abducted from a soccer field.
The violence prompted Venezuela to send 15,000 soldiers to the border with Colombia on Thursday. Officials said the build-up was necessary to increase security along the border.