Washington on Tuesday called on Caracas to explain its relationship with leftist Colombian rebels, following the discovery of information suggesting that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is actively supporting the guerrillas.
Thomas Shannon, the top US State Department official in charge of Latin America, said that he was "surprised" by the negative reaction from Venezuela and Ecuador to a "neutral" report from Interpol on the authenticity of computer data found on laptops and flash drives captured from rebels with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
Bogota says the email messages and documents found in the 38,000 seized computer files prove close links between the FARC -- which Washington considers a terrorist group -- and the leftist governments in Venezuela and Ecuador.
Some of the data -- which includes email messages describing meetings between guerrilla commanders and top Venezuelan officials including Chavez himself, and allegations that Chavez tried to arm Colombian rebels with help from Belarus -- has been leaked to leading US and Spanish-language media.
Interpol secretary general Ronald Noble said on May 15 the agency's experts did not find any alteration of the data found on the rebel computer hard drives.
"I think the stories that have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, in the Washington Post and (Spain's) El Pais and elsewhere, indicate that there is indeed a relationship between the FARC and Venezuela," said Shannon.
"We look more closely and more carefully as we are trying to understand better the relationship (between Venezuela and the rebels) and its consequences," he said.
"We will certainly urge the government of Venezuela to make clear what the purpose of that relationship is."
Washington wants to know "whether or not this relationship can be used in a positive way to help end a four decade long civil conflict in Colombia, or rather the countries are not prepared to stand with a democratic neighbor."
The computer data was captured when Colombian soldiers attacked a FARC rebel camp in the jungle just inside Ecuador on March 1. The FARC's number two commander, Raul Reyes, was killed in the attack.
Bogota has said the data proves that FARC is "financed and armed by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez."
Chavez has dismissed the Interpol report as a "clown show" that "doesn't deserve serious comment."
Copyright © 2008 Agence France Presse. All rights reserved