Tue, Aug 04, 2009 - Page 7 News List

Colombian defense chief warns of threat to polls

AFP , BOGOTA

Colombian Defense Minister Gabriel Silva warned that next year’s presidential elections could become an “objective” for foreign militaries, in an interview published on Sunday.

“I’m worried the electoral process and democracy will become an internal and external military objective,” Silva told El Tiempo.

“We cannot allow terrorism or its allies to interfere in the sovereign expression of popular will,” said Silva, who was appointed defense minister last month.

Elections have been scheduled for next Mayin Colombia, which has had increasingly tense relations with neighbors Ecuador and Venezuela.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez froze relations with Colombia last month and recalled his ambassador to the country. Colombia has accused both Chavez and Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa of aiding the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a Marxist guerrilla group.

Venezuela has also been angered by Colombia’s decision to allow the US to use its military bases to conduct anti-drug operations. Chavez last week alleged “a Yankee military force” was planning to invade his country from Colombia.

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, who has led a popular crackdown on drug groups and armed insurgents, has not ruled out seeking a third term in office, which would require a constitutional amendment.

Former defense minister Juan Manuel Santos, an ally of Uribe, is also considered a front-runner, and is popular for his hardline stance against militants.

Chavez has dubbed Santos a “threat to continental peace” because the Colombian has expressed support for military operations against rebels based in neighboring countries, if the countries are offering the militants safe haven.

Correa has accused Colombia’s intelligence service of trying to undermine his government by linking it to the FARC.

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