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| 1/22/2009 12:00:00 AM

Colombia's infamous rebels get Hugo's warm welcome in Venezuela

Jan 22 -- Members of Colombia's largest rebel group live openly on or near several Indian reservations in western Venezuela with at least the tacit approval of President Hugo Chavez, indigenous leaders here charge.

Although the border area has long absorbed Colombian refugees fleeing decades of war, members of the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, have become visible as never before in the last two to three years, buying supplies, looking for medical assistance and forging relationships with indigenous women, said Venezuelan Congressman Arcadio Montiel, a Wayuu Indian.
 
Leaders of several Indian communities clustered around this town in a wild rain-forest area that forms the border with Colombia told the Los Angeles Times recently that the FARC's presence is doing harm to their culture and youth.
 
"They have replaced the caciques, or chiefs, as authority figures, and so who do the youths now want to emulate? The rebels," said Javier Armato, a Yupa Indian who is a former Zulia state deputy and onetime Chavez supporter.
 
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