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Monday, January 25, 2010

Ecuador Rules Out Joint Military Operations with Colombia

QUITO Jan 23, 2010 – The Ecuadorian government said its armed forces have not carried out and have no plans for joint military operations with Colombia, though the two countries do share intelligence to avoid mistakes caused by “misinformation.”

Security Minister Miguel Carvajal made the remarks on Friday, adding that Ecuadorian soldiers have the sovereign mission of ensuring national security, especially along the border with Colombia.

His comments were in response to a statement this week by Colombian Defense Minister Miguel Silva, who hailed the nations’ military cooperation after Ecuadorian soldiers repelled a group of Colombian FARC leftist rebels during a clash on Monday.

Silva said earlier this week that Carvajal had informed him that Ecuadorian troops killed three insurgents and dismantled a Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia camp on Ecuador’s side of the border.

The slain guerrillas belonged to the FARC front that had been responsible for providing security to Raul Reyes, a top rebel commander who was killed in early 2008 in a Colombian military airstrike on his clandestine camp in Ecuador.

Silva also said the Ecuadorian action facilitated a Colombian military operation early Wednesday in which nine rebels from that same front were killed and six more were captured.

“It’s very important here to highlight the cooperation, the collaboration between our two countries, because both nations are victims of narco-terrorism,” Silva said.

But Carvajal told the Ecuadorinmediato news portal that “Ecuador is not conducting and won’t conduct joint or combined operations with the Colombian armed forces, not before and much less now.”

He said the Ecuadorian military was fulfilling its obligations in a sovereign manner, although he noted there is a mechanism in place to ensure the two armies’ operations are in sync, which is the Bi-National Border Commission, or Combifron.

That commission, made up of high-ranking military officers from both countries, “allows (the scheduling of) regular meetings, intelligence-sharing about military operations in each of the two countries to avoid any misinformation,” Carvajal added.

He said that before March 1, 2008 – when the Colombian military bombed a clandestine FARC camp in Ecuadorian territory without prior authorization, killing Reyes and 25 others – Bogota had thanked Quito for not tolerating Colombian guerrilla activity within its borders.

“After the bombing, that situation changed” and the Ecuadorian government was even accused of having ties with the FARC, and “now there’s once again this statement” of thanks, Carvajal said.

He was referring to accusations stemming from videos and other information Colombian authorities found on Reyes’ laptop computers, which were discovered after the airstrike.

He stressed that the Ecuadorian government merely wants to make it clear that it will not tolerate “under any circumstances any activity by any illegal armed group” in Ecuadorian territory.

Ecuador has repeatedly urged Colombia to strengthen its military control over its side of the border to prevent illegal armed groups from crossing the frontier.

Bogota and Quito began talks last September aimed at restoring diplomatic ties, which Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa’s leftist government had severed following the March 2008 bombing of Reyes’ camp.

Most of the 720 kilometer (447 mile) border between Ecuador and Colombia runs through dense Amazon jungles stalked by Colombian guerrillas, militias and drug smugglers.

The FARC is on both the U.S. and EU lists of terrorist groups and depends on drug trafficking, extortion and kidnapping-for-ransom as the main means of financing its operations.

Separately, security cooperation between Ecuador and Colombia resulted in the rescue of an 8-year-old girl who had been held hostage for 11 days, it was reported Friday in Bogota.

The girl was reportedly freed thanks to an operation carried out by an Ecuadorian anti-kidnapping unit with assistance from Colombian police experts.

Defense Minister Silva said in a statement that “in less than a week we’ve dealt two crushing blows to crime and terrorism thanks to bi-national cooperation.”

The documents said the support of two Colombian experts in anti-kidnapping operations “was requested by the government of the neighboring country.”

The daughter of a wealthy Ecuadorian family, the girl was kidnapped in Quito on Jan. 11 and her captors had demanded a $2 million ransom.

The minor was abducted as she was heading home from school in Quito’s affluent La Escondida neighborhood.

In the operation, police arrested a 23-year-old suspect who allegedly belonged to a kidnapping gang in Ecuador.

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