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Venezuela Ends Military Program With U.S.

By Christopher Toothaker, Associated Press Writer

23.04.05 | CARACAS, Venezuela | Posted 22.04.05 | President Hugo Chavez's government has unexpectedly ended a military exchange program with United States, the U.S. Embassy in Caracas announced Friday.

Venezuelan officials could not be reached immediately to confirm the termination of the program that began exchanging U.S. and Venezuelan military personnel 35 years ago.

"Giving no explanation, the Bolivarian Government of Venezuela abruptly ended U.S. military participation in the bilateral exchange program," the embassy said in a statement. "The U.S. Embassy regrets this unexpected action. The U.S. government hopes to maintain the historical fraternal relations between the two military forces."

An embassy official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there are four U.S. military instructors in Venezuela and roughly 90 Venezuelan military personnel in the United States. The American officers in Venezuela "were basically told to leave the Venezuelan military institutions and bases where they were," the official said in a telephone interview. "We have no explanation as to why this was done."

Venezuela is the United State's fourth top oil supplier, but relations between the two countries have soured in recent years. Chavez accuses the United States of backing a short-lived coup against him in 2002, and last month warned he would cut off oil shipments to the United States if the U.S. government supports any attempt to force him from office.

The statement Friday came one day after Venezuela's vice president downplayed concerns expressed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice over Chavez's decision to buy 100,000 assault rifles from Russia.

"This (purchase) is part of our effort to re-equip the Venezuelan Armed Forces, which has the same rights as any army," said Jose Vicente Rangel, who added that Venezuela was growing tired of hearing Washington repeat its concerns regarding Venezuela's acquisition of the Kalashnikov rifles.

Chavez denies that the purchase of the rifles will lead to an arms race with his Latin American neighbors.

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