Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez ordered tanks and thousands of troops sent to Venezuela's border with Colombia on Sunday, accusing his neighbour of pushing South America to the brink of war.
The leftist leader warned Colombia's U.S.-allied government that Venezuela will not permit acts like its killing of top rebel leader Raul Reyes and 16 other Colombian guerrillas on Saturday at a camp across the border in Ecuador.
"Mr. Minister of Defence, move 10 battalions to the border with Colombia for me, immediately. Tank battalions, the air force has to be deployed," Chavez said, speaking during his weekly television program.
"We don't want war, but we will not allow the North American empire, who is the master, and its sub-President [Alvaro] Uribe and the Colombian oligarchy to divide, to weaken us. We will not allow it," he added.
Chavez, a fierce critic of Washington, called the U.S.-allied government in Bogota "a terrorist state" and labelled Uribe "a criminal." Chavez also said his government's embassy in Bogota will be closed.
Chavez condemned the slaying of Reyes and 16 other guerrillas, saying they were killed while they slept in a camp across the border in Ecuadorean territory.
'Cowardly murder:' Chavez
"It was not combat. It was a cowardly murder — coldly prepared in its entirety," Chavez said.
He also said that Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa was withdrawing the ambassador in Bogota. Correa also ordered the mobilization of troops to the border with Colombia on Sunday.
The U.S. State Department had no immediate reaction to Chavez's comments.
Chavez maintains warm relations with Colombia's largest guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, and has sought to play a role as mediator despite his growing conflict with Colombia's government.
Chavez's government called the Colombian military attack a setback in efforts to negotiate a swap of rebel-held hostages for imprisoned guerrillas.
Colombia and Venezuela have been locked in a diplomatic crisis since November, when Uribe ended Chavez's official role negotiating a proposed hostages-for-prisoners swap.
Nevertheless, the FARC freed four hostages to Venezuelan officials last week, and they were reunited with their families in Caracas.
It was the second unilateral release by the FARC this year.
Chavez has recently angered Uribe by urging world leaders to classify the leftist rebels as "insurgents" rather than "terrorists."
The FARC has proposed trading some 40 remaining high-value captives, including former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt and three U.S. defence contractors, for hundreds of imprisoned guerrillas.