The Big Question: Why has Colombia invaded Ecuador, and why is Venezuela joining the fight?

Why are we asking this now?

At the weekend the Colombian army crossed the border into Ecuador to kill a Colombian rebel leader, and 16 other guerrillas, who were sheltering there. The move outraged the government in Ecuador, which broke off diplomatic relations with its neighbour and helicoptered 3,000 of its own troops to the border area.

Colombia’s other neighbour, Venezuela, also reacted. It also expelled Colombia’s diplomats and ordered thousands of troops, tanks and fighter jets to the border. Venezuela’s fiery president, Hugo Chavez, also warned that war could break out if Colombia crossed into Venezuelan soil. It is the worst diplomatic crisis in Latin America for many years.

So what really happened?

The Colombians say they first bombed a rebel camp on their own side of the border. They claim that rebels hiding across the border in Ecuador fired on them, so they crossed the border to fight back.

The Ecuadorean president, Rafael Correa, called that account an outright lie: “It was a massacre,” he said. The Colombian troops were backed by military planes, suggesting the raid was pre-ordained. When Ecuadorean troops reached the rebel camp they found the rebels were killed in their sleep “in their pyjamas”. The rebels were “bombed and massacred as they slept, using precision technology.” Colombian military sources seemed to corroborate this by revealing that US intelligence helped target the rebels by disclosing that the rebel’s deputy leader, Raul Reyes, was sporadically using a satellite telephone, whose signal could be pinpointed.

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War pimp alert: Colombia to accuse Chavez before international court

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(CNN) — Colombian President Alvaro Uribe said Tuesday that he will seek Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s denunciation in international court for financing a terrorist group.

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President Bush vowed to stand by Colombia and criticized Venezuela’s “provocative maneuvers.”
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Camilo Ospina, Colombia’s ambassador to the United Nations, will go before the International Criminal Court to accuse Chavez of “supporting and financing genocides,” Uribe told reporters.

The Colombian leader alleged Monday that correspondence taken from computers seized in last weekend’s military raid into Ecuador showed Chavez had given $300 million to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

Colombia’s largest rebel group, known by the Spanish acronym FARC, has sought to overthrow the government for more than 40 years. The United States and European Union consider the FARC a terrorist organization. Video Watch tension build in South America »

Raul Reyes, a FARC leader, was killed in Saturday’s raid.

Venezuelan officials have denied Colombia’s allegations.

Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa severed diplomatic ties with Colombia on Monday and moved troops toward the Colombia border, as did Venezuela. Map »

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