WASHINGTON – Venezuela is destabilizing the border area with Colombia (search) by supplying weapons to the country's main leftist insurgency, a top State Department official said Wednesday.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Nicholas Burns, the State Department's third-ranking official, said the United States is disturbed by what he described as Venezuela's "massive" arms imports. He spoke on the eve of a meeting between President Bush and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe (search) at Bush's Texas ranch.
Burns expressed hope that Venezuela "will refrain from giving support to the FARC," referring to Colombia's oldest and largest rebel group. Asked if this meant Venezuela has been supporting the FARC (search) with weapons, Burns said, "Yes."
The Venezuelan embassy did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.
The United States and Venezuela have had testy relations in recent months, with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez accusing Washington of supporting efforts to overthrow him.
Burns' remarks came as the State Department announced that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has certified that Colombia's government and armed forces have met congressional human rights standards to qualify for full funding of U.S. assistance programs.
Failure to meet the standard would have required a cut of about $70 million, according to a State Department estimate.
Congress has imposed conditions on U.S. assistance in an attempt to curb rights abuses in Colombia as it tries to pacify the country.
Amnesty International USA immediately challenged Rice's certification announcement.
"This decision is a major blow to the promotion of human rights in Colombia and is based on only the narrowest reading of the law and the thinnest of evidence," said Dr. William F. Schulz, AIUSA's executive director.