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08/04/2010 | Colombia Blasts Arrest Of ¨Spies¨ By Venezuela

Reuters Staff

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe accused Venezuela on Wednesday of violating the rights of a group of Colombians arrested in the neighboring country for allegedly spying on its ailing energy infrastructure.

 

Venezuela says eight detainees had photographs of electricity substations, transmission systems and highways, and that some of them were carrying Colombian army ID cards. A Colombian official said seven arrests were made.

The arrests follow months of jibes between Uribe, the top U.S. ally in South America, and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who is wrestling with power shortages that could boost opposition prospects at legislative polls due in September.

Uribe said the detentions were unjustified.

"This is called a violation of human rights. And the government of Colombia cannot permit violations of human rights against its citizens, whether they live in Colombia or elsewhere," Uribe told reporters.

Last month, Chavez accused "counter-revolutionaries" opposed to his socialist government of slashing power cables to worsen the OPEC nation's electricity crisis, which has forced his administration to ration power in much of the country.

The arrests, which the Venezuelan authorities say were carried out by security forces in two states over the last two weeks, could worsen relations between Caracas and Bogota ahead of a presidential election in Colombia in May.

The suspects are being processed by Venezuela's military justice system.

ICE-CREAM SELLERS?

On Wednesday, Venezuelan media said five of the suspects, including Luis Carlos Cossio, 52, were members of a Colombian family that had lived in the small western Venezuelan town of Barinitas for 17 years and owned an ice-cream factory there.

One newspaper quoted a relative as saying Cossio had taken up photography as a hobby.

During a televised Cabinet meeting late on Tuesday, Chavez said that the ice-cream factory was a "facade," and that family members had been taking pictures around the country.

But he said he was not now accusing Colombia's government or army of involvement, and added that the IDs could be fakes. Intelligence operations and patrols had been stepped up to protect electrical installations, he added.

Chavez has clamped down on commerce with Colombia in recent months in protest at a military cooperation deal signed between Washington and Bogota in October. He says the agreement could set the stage for an invasion of his oil-producing nation, an accusation that Colombia and the United States dismiss.

The trade freeze has slowed Colombia's economic recovery and pushed an already high inflation rate in Venezuela -- which is suffering a harsh drought that has reduced the reservoirs that feed ithydroelectric dams to historically low levels.

Many Venezuelans also blame the government for failing to invest in and maintain the country's electricity system despite rapidly rising demand, and the widespread power cuts could help opposition parties at the ballot box later this year.


NY Times (Estados Unidos)

 


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