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Venezuela severs ties with Colombia

President Hugo Chavez has severed Venezuela's diplomatic relations with Colombia over claims he harbours guerrillas, and he also suggested that his neighbour's leader could attempt to provoke a war.

Mr Chavez said he was forced to break off all relations because Colombian officials claim he has failed to move against leftist rebels who allegedly have taken shelter in Venezuelan territory.

Mr Chavez acted moments after Colombian Ambassador Luis Alfonso Hoyos presented a meeting of the Organisation of American States in Washington with photos, videos, witness testimony and maps of what he said were rebel camps inside Venezuela and challenged Venezuelan officials to let independent observers visit them.

Neither Mr Chavez nor his OAS ambassador directly responded to the Colombian challenge to let people visit the alleged site of the camps.

In Washington, Hoyos said that roughly 1,500 rebels are hiding out in Venezuela and he showed fellow diplomats numerous aerial photographs of what he identified as rebel camps on Venezuelan territory.

Mr Hoyos said that Colombian President Alvaro Uribe's government has repeatedly asked for Venezuela's cooperation to prevent guerrillas from slipping over the 1,400-mile (2,300-kilometer) border that separates the two countries. He insisted that several rebel leaders are hiding out in Venezuela.

OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza told reporters after the four-hour session that his organisation couldn't mount an inspection mission without Venezuela's consent.

On another front, Colombia announced it would file a complaint with the International Criminal Court against members of Venzuela's government alleging collaboration with Colombian guerrilla groups and providing refuge to terrorists.

The charges would fall under war crimes and crimes against humanity, chief prosecutor Guillermo Mendoza told reporters after a meeting with Uribe and Cabinet members.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro announced that Chavez's government had closed its embassy in Bogota and demanded that Colombia's ambassador in Caracas leave the country within 72 hours.

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