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Ecuador: Colombian raid prevented release of captives

  • Story Highlights
  • Ecuador cuts diplomatic ties with Colombia
  • OAS council, Brazil taking steps to calm tensions in two countries
  • Colombian president reiterates "affection and respect" for Venezuela, Ecuador
  • Troops in Ecuador, Venezuela sent to Colombian border after raid
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(CNN) -- Ecuador's president said Monday that a deal to release political prisoners -- including former Colombian Sen. Ingrid Betancourt -- was nearly complete before a Colombian raid into his country Saturday.

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Ecuadoran soldiers board a helicopter Monday to Angostura, near the Colombian border.

"I can tell you we were involved in very close conversations with the guerrillas, and we were very close to gaining the release of 12 captives, one of them Ingrid Betancourt," Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa told reporters.

Correa announced Monday that his country had severed diplomatic ties with Colombia.

Both countries bolstered troops on the border after Colombia's raid, which killed a member of the rebel group holding the hostages. Luis Edgar Devia Silva, known as "Raul Reyes," was second-in-command of the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which has fought to overthrow the Colombian government for 40 years.

Correa called Saturday's raid an unjustified "massacre" that left civilians dead.

"We will not permit this outrage. ... The situation is extremely grave and the Ecuadorean government is disposed to go to the ultimate consequences," he said over the weekend.

And Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez called it a "murder."

The two leftist leaders, who are key allies, ordered troops to the border.

The mounting tensions among the three nations has some in the region concerned it could be on the brink of war.

The Permanent Council of the Organization of American States will meet Tuesday in Washington in an effort to head off an escalation between Ecuador and Colombia, a senior administration official told CNN.

The goal of the meeting, according to the official, is "to calm everyone down and determine what the facts are," pertaining to this weekend's attack. The official asked not to be identified because of the sensitive nature of the situation.

Brazil's foreign minister, Celso Amorim, said Monday that his country is working "to mitigate toward a peaceful solution" while condemning the Colombian incursion into Ecuador.

The Colombian government on Monday said it would not send additional troops to the borders of Ecuador and Venezuela.

In a communique carried on his Web site, President Alvaro Uribe said his government "reiterates its affection and respect" for the two neighbors.

But the Colombians described the raid as the most significant blow yet against the FARC.

And evidence found in the raid suggests that Chavez recently gave the FARC $300 million, Colombia's national police chief said Monday.

Speaking at a news conference, Gen. Oscar Naranjo said evidence in three seized computers also suggests FARC had given Chavez 100 million pesos when he was a jailed rebel leader.

Naranjo said other evidence in the computers suggests FARC purchased 50 kilograms of uranium this month.

"The revelations about agreements between the terrorist group FARC and the governments of Ecuador and Venezuela will be submitted to the Organization of American States and the United Nations," Uribe's communique said Monday.

Naranjo said the evidence also shows that Ecuador's minister of security met recently with Reyes, and that Ecuador had "an interest in formalizing relations with the FARC," according to an account published on a Colombian government Web site.

But Correa said Ecuador's only contact with the guerilla group was an effort to get hostages released.

"All contacts we have had with FARC were for humanitarian reasons, together with France's government," he said. "I don't hear them accusing [French President Nicolas] Sarkozy of involvement with FARC."

Betancourt, 46, a French citizen, was abducted by FARC six years ago and, according to former hostages, is in poor health.

The former lawmaker is one of an estimated 750 prisoners held by FARC, some of them for years. FARC calls hostage-taking a legitimate military tactic in a long-running and complex civil war that also has involved right-wing paramilitaries, government forces and drug traffickers.

Colombia says its police and air force attacked targets in Colombia and shot back only after its forces came under fire from FARC rebels about a mile inside Ecuador.

Both Ecuador and Venezuela reject the Colombian government's allegations and its description of the raid.

Sunday night, Correa called the raid a "massacre" that killed several civilians. He withdrew Ecuador's ambassador to Colombia, expelled Colombia's ambassador to his country and, on Monday, severed all diplomatic ties with the nation.

Chavez called the attack "a cowardly murder" that was "coldly prepared." Video Watch what led to attack »

He ordered 10 battalions of Venezuelan troops to the Colombian border Sunday and closed Venezuela's embassy in the Colombian capital of Bogota. He pledged to support Ecuador and said Venezuela would have declared war on Colombia if Colombian troops had attacked targets on Venezuelan soil.

Chavez also blamed the United States -- a close ally of Uribe.

"We don't want war, but we will not allow the North American empire -- which is the master -- and its sub-President Uribe and the Colombian oligarchy to divide, to weaken us," he said. "We will not allow it."

Chavez, an outspoken U.S. foe, used his leftist credentials to help secure the recent release of six FARC hostages. Many have been held for years in harsh conditions in the South American jungle.

State Department Deputy spokesman Tom Casey said Monday that the United States hopes the two countries will solve their differences diplomatically.

"Our hope would be that other countries would act on this issue to the same extent; that what they would do would be encourage the parties to sit down and work it out," Casey said.

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In addition to the United States, the European Union and Colombia also label the FARC a terrorist organization.

In addition to Reyes -- a member of the seven-man FARC leadership council known as the general secretariat -- Colombia's raid also killed another leading FARC figure, Guillermo Enrique Torres or "Julian Conrado," a key ideologue. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

Copyright 2008 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.

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