Threat of Conflict in South America

Uribe said he would not allow his nation to be drawn into war. Venezuela was sending about 9,000 soldiers - 10 battalions - to the border region as a "preventive" measure, retired Gen. Alberto Muller Rojas, a former top Chavez aide, told The Associated Press.

Ecuador said it sent 3,200 troops to the border on Monday. Venezuela's agriculture minister, Elias Jaua, said Venezuela had closed the border, which sees annual trade worth roughly $5 billion, to imports and exports.

Leonardo Mendez, a spokesman for a Colombian cargo transport association, said some 300 vehicles, including trucks carrying food, shoes, ceramics and other products, were stuck at one major border crossing.

Despite the shrill rhetoric from the Andean governments, there was little sign of tension in several border towns apart from the turning away of trucks.

Contenting themselves by calling Chavez "crazy", Colombian truckers lounged in the shade drinking beer and saying they hope the crisis will not persist long.

When the border is open, some 9,400 tons of merchandise cross each day between Colombia and Venezuela in both directions, said Jaime Sorzano, head of the cargo transport association. "In the past, we've had episodes, problems, but like this crisis, no," he said. "It's unprecedented." --- Associated Press writers Frank Bajak and Vivian Sequera in Bogota, Colombia; Nestor Ikeda in Washington; Marco Sibaja in Brasilia, Brazil; Alan Clendenning in Sao Paulo, Brazil; Andrew Whalen in Lima, Peru; Christopher Toothaker in San Antonio, Venezuela, and Fabiola Sanchez, Jorge Rueda and Ian James in Caracas, Venezuela, contributed to this report.

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