Colombia to Chavez: Santa, not ‘spy plane’

/ Source: The Associated Press

Colombia's defense chief joked Monday that Venezuelan troops might have mistaken Santa's sleigh for a spy plane, dismissing accusations by President Hugo Chavez about drones flying over Venezuela.

Chavez on Sunday accused the United States of violating Venezuela's airspace with an unmanned spy plane and ordered his military to be on alert and shoot down any such aircraft.

The Pentagon has declined to comment on Chavez's accusations.

Colombian Defense Minister Gabriel Silva and armed forces commander Freddy Padilla told reporters Monday that Colombian aircraft couldn't fly the kind of espionage mission described by Chavez.

"Colombia doesn't have that capability," said Silva. He quipped that perhaps "Venezuelan soldiers mistook Father Christmas' sleigh for a spy plane."

Padilla said Colombia has only small, unmanned surveillance planes that it uses to monitor pipelines and other installations against sabotage by rebel groups.

"They don't have any firepower and what they do is observe to prevent attacks on electrical towers," Padilla said.

Silva and Padilla did not discuss U.S. military capabilities at Colombian bases.

Chavez has accused Colombia of allowing the United States to use its military bases to prepare a possible attack on Venezuela.

Both the U.S. and Colombia have denied such allegations in the past, saying the U.S. military presence is for the sole purpose of giving support to Colombia in combating drug traffickers and rebels.

Tensions between Venezuela and neighboring Colombia have been high for months amid Chavez's accusations of warmongering and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe's allegations that Venezuela has harbored Colombian rebel leaders.