Venezuela offered substantial military help to Colombian rebels in their fight against the Colombian government, according to a report Thursday by the Washington Post, which cited internal rebel documents.
The Post reports that Venezuelan officials set up contacts with Australian arms dealers and arranged for missile training in the Middle East, according to the documents, which were on computer hard drives seized by Colombia.
Venezuela's ties to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, came under further scrutiny Thursday when Interpol said it had concluded that the Colombian government hadn't tampered with the seized computers.
Interpol's report bolsters Colombia's claims that the computers contain evidence of meddling by Venezuela in its neighbor's war with FARC. Venezuela has asserted the files on the computer are bogus, and on Thursday, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez denounced the Interpol report as "ridiculous."
The developments come on the heels of Chavez's warning Wednesday that Colombia should not allow a U.S. military base on the border between the two countries, or else Venezuela would consider it an act of "aggression" that would revive a decades-old territorial conflict in the region known as La Guajira.
"We will not allow the Colombian government to give La Guajira to the empire," Chavez said, referring to the U.S. during a speech to a packed auditorium of uniformed soldiers. "Colombia is launching a threat of war at us."
Diplomatic relations between Caracas and Bogota have been rocky for months. They worsened last week when Colombia unveiled documents allegedly showing that Chavez sought to arm and finance Colombian rebels.
Interpol's findings are sure to increase pressure on Chavez, and more revelations are likely to emerge, since Interpol also turned over 983 decrypted files to Colombia and left it up to Colombian officials to decide whether to make the contents public.
Colombian commandos recovered the three Toshiba Satellite laptop computers, two external hard drives and three USB memory sticks after destroying the rebel camp just across the border in Ecuador. FARC foreign minister Raul Reyes and 24 others were killed in the March 1 raid.
The 39-page forensic report by Interpol concluded Colombian authorities did not always follow internationally accepted methods for handling computer evidence, but said that didn't taint the data.
The France-based international police agency limited itself to verifying whether Colombia altered the files and correctly handled the evidence, but did not address the contents of the documents.
More than a dozen internal rebel messages detail several years of close cooperation between top Venezuelan and FARC officials, including rebel training facilities on Venezuelan soil and a meeting inside Venezuela's equivalent of the Pentagon, according to the Associated Press, which reviewed text files provided by a senior Colombian official.
The Washington Post reported Colombian officials said they had no evidence that the guerrillas obtained antiaircraft missiles with Venezuela's help, but Venezuelan authorities seem to have provided rocket-propelled grenade launchers and other weaponry to FARC.
"They are serious allegations about Venezuela supplying arms and support to a terrorist organization," U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in Washington. "Certainly, that has deep implications for the people of the region."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.