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Interpol: Colombia did not doctor FARC files

Colombia says the files show Venezuela supports the leftist rebels, a claim Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez calls 'ridiculous.'

By Sibylla BrodzinskyCorrespondent / May 16, 2008

Bogotá, Colombia

An international forensics team has determined that Colombian officials did not tamper with computer files they say prove Venezuela's close collaboration with leftist rebels.

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The computers were purportedly seized by Colombian forces in a March 1 air raid on a guerrilla camp across the border in Ecuador, and have been at the center of a diplomatic crisis between the three South American neighbors.

Interpol Secretary-General Ronald Noble presented the findings of the two-month investigation Thursday, saying that "there was no tampering with or altering of any of the data contained in the user files by any of the Colombian law-enforcement authorities following their seizure on March 1."

The long-awaited report from the international policy agency makes no judgment about the authenticity of the information in the documents, however.

Venezuela's leftist president Hugo Chávez has vehemently denied the claims that his government supported the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels, saying the evidence on the laptops is part of a smear campaign by the United States and Colombia.

"The government of Colombia is capable of provoking a war with Venezuela to justify the intervention of the United States," Mr. Chávez said recently. "Whatever they want they will find – it's ridiculous."

The air raid, the laptops, and the crisis

Colombia seized the three laptop computers, three USB memory sticks, and two external hard disks following an air raid March 1 on a rebel camp just across the border in Ecuador. The bombing killed Raúl Reyes, the FARC's No. 2 leader, and 24 others.

The raid sparked a tense diplomatic crisis with Ecuador and Venezuela blasting Colombia for the cross-border attack and Colombia hitting back by announcing that dozens of files found on the computers showed the government of both neighboring countries had close links with the rebels who have been trying to take power for four decades.

Chávez's ideological kinship with the guerrillas is no secret, but evidence that he may have provided logistical support to the FARC would place his government in a difficult position since the rebel group has been labeled a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union.

Among the more than 37,000 text files extracted from the hard disks and memory sticks, some of which have been leaked to the press, is one e-mail message from the FARC's top military leader, Jorge Briceño, also known as "Mono Jojoy," who proposes to the rebels' governing secretariat that they ask Chávez for a loan of $250 million, "to be repaid when we take power."

Other leaked documents suggest that Venezuelan officials served as middlemen with Australian arms dealers to help the rebels acquire Chinese-made surface-to-air missiles in exchange for training in guerrilla tactics.