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Venezuela pulls ambassador

July 29, 2009|Associated Press

CARACAS, VENEZUELA — President Hugo Chavez recalled his ambassador to Colombia on Tuesday after the neighboring country said antitank weapons found in a rebel arms cache came from Venezuela.

Chavez also said he would sever diplomatic ties and seize control of Colombian-owned businesses in his country "if there's one more accusation against Venezuela."

Relations between the two South American nations have been rocky in recent years. The fiery Venezuelan leader recently criticized a pending deal to increase the U.S. military presence in Colombia, which has accused Chavez of helping leftist rebels there. Chavez is a strong critic of U.S. influence in Latin America.

Over the weekend, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe said antitank rocket launchers that Sweden sold to Venezuela in the 1980s had ended up in the hands of Colombia's main rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

Sweden confirmed that the weapons originally were sold to Venezuela's military.

Chavez accused Colombia of acting irresponsibly in making the accusation, saying there was no evidence that Venezuela was the source of the weapons.

"We are not going to accept this irresponsibility," the socialist leader said.

In Bogota, the Colombian Foreign Ministry said Uribe was traveling abroad and would have no comment until he returned.

Chavez threatened to halt all trade agreements with Uribe's government and find new suppliers to replace imports from Colombia.

Among the imports are milk and other food items that periodically become scarce in Venezuela because of government-imposed price controls.

Colombian officials have long alleged that Chavez's government helps the FARC by giving rebel leaders refuge and allowing the guerrillas to smuggle tons of cocaine through the country, a charge Chavez denies.

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