Venezuela, Colombia focus on security

JORGE RUEDA

Venezuela, Colombia focus on security
By JORGE RUEDA
ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER

EL TABLAZO, Venezuela -- The leaders of Venezuela and Colombia agreed to launch regional energy projects and emphasized their commitment to stopping Colombia's civil war from spilling into Venezuela.

Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and Colombia's Alvaro Uribe agreed Wednesday to build a $200 million natural gas pipeline as part of a regional energy network that has its eyes on Asian and U.S. West Coast markets.

Uribe said he and Chavez also discussed building an oil pipeline across northern Colombia to the Pacific Ocean for Venezuelan exports.

"As soon as possible, we want Venezuela to build the pipeline from Maracaibo (in Venezuela) to the Colombian Pacific to export its oil and other products as far away as Alaska," Uribe said.

"Many of the things we want to do should have been done 15 or 20 years ago," Uribe said, noting that Venezuela hopes to nearly double its oil production over the next decade.

Chavez said armed forces from both nations should be able to protect the pipelines from sabotage by Colombia's warring factions.

Chavez insisted Venezuela doesn't tolerate the presence of leftist guerrillas or right-wing paramilitaries in Venezuela - allegations that overshadowed past bilateral meetings.

"We have not and will not allow the presence of armed groups of any kind: drug traffickers, paramilitary fighters (or) guerrillas in Venezuelan territory," said Chavez.

Chavez voiced his support for ongoing efforts to end Colombia's armed conflict peacefully saying "any advance toward the road to peace is positive."

Uribe lauded Venezuelan troops for recent actions against both guerrillas and paramilitaries caught inside Venezuela along the remote 1,400-mile border.

The leaders met at El Tablazo, a petrochemical complex on the eastern coast of Venezuela's oil-rich Lake Maracaibo, about 300 miles west of Caracas.

Venezuela, the world's fifth-largest oil exporter, has recently stepped up its petroleum diplomacy for regional integration, announcing plans for a South American oil cooperative and a new company to deliver Venezuelan oil to Caribbean nations.

Initially, Colombia will use the 120-mile natural gas pipeline to send gas from its northeastern La Guajira peninsula to western Venezuela. The pipeline should be completed by 2006.

Eventually, Venezuela will send gas to Colombia, and the pipeline will form part of a network delivering gas to Central America and Mexico.

Chavez and Uribe also agreed to build a bridge connecting Venezuela's Tachira state with Colombia's Norte de Santander department; share electricity; and address the plight of refugees fleeing Colombia's civil war.