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U.S.: Plane in Venezuela airspace a mistake

Washington's top diplomat in Venezuela said  the U.S. will make sure its counter-drug planes don't stray into Venezuelan airspace again — but President Hugo Chavez isn't satisfied.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Washington's top diplomat in Venezuela said Tuesday the United States is taking steps to make sure its counter-drug planes don't stray into Venezuelan airspace again — but President Hugo Chavez's government isn't satisfied.

U.S. Ambassador Patrick Duddy acknowledged an S-3 Navy plane flew into Venezuelan airspace during an anti-drug mission over the Caribbean Sea, saying it was an accident due to a navigational error.

But Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro presented Duddy with a protest letter and said after their meeting that he was not satisfied.

"We've received responses from the U.S. ambassador that do not please us," he said, calling the flyover one of many U.S. "provocations."

The incident could heighten long-standing tensions between the U.S. and Venezuela.

The plane was detected by Venezuelan authorities on Saturday near the island of La Orchila, and its crew was questioned over the radio by the Caracas airport control tower.

'Series of errors'
In the meeting, Duddy said he reiterated the U.S. government's interest in "renewing counter-drug cooperation," which has been scaled back in recent years. He also brought up concerns about alleged links between Venezuela's government and leftist Colombian rebels.

Colombia said files retrieved from the computers of slain rebels show Venezuela sought to finance and arm the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. The international police agency Interpol found no evidence of tampering with the files, but Chavez has dismissed the findings as a sham.

Maduro said U.S. officials are committing a "series of errors" and that the computers were not properly safeguarded to prevent meddling with the files.