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Chavez warns Colombian minister

Hugo Chavez
Mr Chavez said he did not want to return to fights of the past

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has sharply criticised the Colombian Defence Minister, Juan Manuel Santos, calling him a threat to the region.

The criticism came after Mr Santos said he would not rule out Colombian forces pursuing left-wing Colombian rebels into neighbouring countries.

President Chavez said that any Colombian incursion into Venezuela would trigger a military response.

A Colombian incursion into Ecuador last year sparked a regional diplomatic row.

The Venezuelan leader said he found it strange that Mr Santos had been allowed to remain in his role after making such remarks.

'Declared an enemy'

"Mr Santos, the Minister of Defence of Colombia, has been declared an enemy of Venezuela," said Mr Chavez on his Sunday radio and TV talk show.

"What Minister Santos has said is a threat to the peace of South America and what he represents, the most fascist current of the Colombian oligarchy."

He added: "One does not understand President [Alvaro] Uribe at times, with all due respect. I don't want to return to the fights of the past, no."

Ecuadorian soldier examines remains of rebel camp attacked by Colombia troops (3.3.2008)
Colombia's incursion into Ecuador triggered a bitter diplomatic row

The remarks which triggered the broadside from Mr Chavez were made by Mr Santos in an interview with a Colombian newspaper.

He argued that Colombia had a right to self-defence that allowed it to attack what Bogota sees as "terrorists systematically attacking the country even if they are not located inside its own territory".

President Uribe has distanced himself from the defence minister's remarks - calling them out of place and imprudent.

But the BBC's Emilio San Pedro says it is clear the Venezuelan leader is far from satisfied with Mr Uribe's response.

Colombia's cross-border raid into Ecuador last March killed a Farc rebel commander and more than 25 other guerrillas.

It caused one of the biggest diplomatic crises in Latin America in years.

Ecuador and Venezuela sent troops to their borders, withdrawing them after a meeting of regional leaders in the Dominican Republic.

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