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Handshakes and a hug cool South American war talk

The microphone war between Colombia and the Ecuador-Venezuela alliance ended Friday with a hug and a handshake after a heated exchange at a summit meeting in the Domincan Republic. Latin American presidents used the summit of the so-called Rio Group to tackle the escalating crisis, which began Saturday, when Colombia bombed a rebel camp a mile inside Ecuador.

The airstrike killed Raúl Reyes, a member of the secretariat of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, and set off angry response from Ecuador and Venezeulan President Hugo Chavez, who ordered his military to the border. By the end of Friday's meeting, however, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe had shaken hands with both Chavez and Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa and had agreed not to take Chavez before the International Criminal Court for allegedly financing the FARC.

The 20-member Rio Group issued a joint declaration condemning the violation of Ecuador's territory and said that Uribe apologized. Nicaragua, which had broken off diplomatic relations with Colombia, resumed contacts. Chavez told reporters afterward that he would take "the path toward peace."

Then, in an obvious nod to the border residents who've complained angrily about how the last days hostility had inconvenineced them, Chavez added, "We need for commerce to continue." But whether bygones will be bygones was anything but certain. Chavez said that the troops he called up will stay at the border. Even as the presidents applauded his handshake with Uribe, Ecuador's Correa said: "This is not resolved with hugs and handshakes."

It was unclear what the Colombians would do. They've already widely publicized allegations that Chavez gave the rebels $300 million, based on documents they say were recovered from a laptop found at the bombed out camp.

Uribe cited those documents at the summit in Santo Domingo, accusing Correa of having received funding for his presidntial campaign from the FARC, which funds much of its operations by ransom kidnappings. Correa walked out during Uribe's address, which literally left the Colombian leader speechless: He refused to continue until Correa returned. Dominican Republic President Leonel Fernandez later prodded the presidents to shake hands. After a long day of speeches and pointed barbs, the tide suddenly shifted. "With the promise of never hurting a brother country and the apology, we can take this serious incident as over," Correa said. The summits came as as the Colombian defense ministry announced the death of another member of the nine-member FARC secretariat — one with a $5 million U.S. bounty on his head. Iván Ríos, a member of the FARC secretariat since 2003, was killed by his chief bodyguard, who turned Rios' severed right hand in to authorities as proof of his death in hopes of collecting the reward. Colombia's defense ministry said a rebel code-named "Rojas'' turned himself in Thursday with the hand, passport, ID card and computer belonging to Manuel Jesús Muñoz, better known as "Commander Iván." The Eighth Brigade of the Colombian army had been closing in on Ríos' crew since mid-February, the defense ministry said. "According to his words, alias Rojas killed Ríos three days ago, and he added that he sought to alleviate the military pressure that they were under," the defense ministry said in a statement. "He said they were surrounded, out of supplies and cut off from communications. . . . This shows they are breaking apart." The military said they have engaged in combat seven times this month with the 47th Front, which was Rios' security ring.

"This is even more serious for the FARC than what happened with Reyes, because Reyes was a military attack. This shows very high levels of decomposition within the rebels," said political analyst León Valencia. "To be close to him, [the killer] had to be a very trusted person, and that says something very serious." Ríos, 45, was an economics student in Colombia's northwest Antioquia state when he joined the rebel group 25 years ago. He was the youngest member of the FARC leadership.

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