MEXICO CITY - Colombian President Alvaro Uribe said Wednesday that he does not regret ordering a cross-border raid on a rebel camp in Ecuador, despite the deaths of four Mexican students there.
Uribe told Mexico's Televisa network that the students were seen in a video with the guerrillas, indicating they were in league with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.
"They were not doing humanitarian work. They were not hostages. So why were they there?" Uribe said. "They were there as accomplices of this activity. They were there as agents of terrorism."
Later Wednesday, Mexican President Felipe Calderon asked Uribe not to jump to conclusions as to why the students were at the FARC's camp until a thorough investigation is conducted.
"Everyone has their own hypothesis, but the pain of their relatives deserves the benefit of the doubt until an investigation is carried out," Calderon said, according to reports in local media.
The National Autonomous University of Mexico, where three of the dead and the survivor studied, said in a statement that Uribe's comments were "baseless, imprudent and irresponsible." The fourth student attended Mexico's Politecnico Nacional University.
Uribe's comments thrust him headlong into a debate here about whether the students should have been at the guerrilla camp.
Many Mexican news commentators say the students were supporters of the rebels. But the students' families deny they were involved with the FARC, saying they traveled to Ecuador for a leftist political conference before visiting the rebel camp for academic purposes.
The March 1 raid killed 25 people including a top FARC commander and the four Mexicans. A fifth Mexican student, 26-year-old Lucia Morett, was wounded. She remains in Ecuador, and her family says she is seeking political asylum because she fears Mexican officials may prosecute her on terrorism charges.
The raid also caused a crisis in relations between Colombia and Ecuador that has not yet healed. Ecuador cut off diplomatic ties following the attack, and its president, Rafael Correa, has said he is not satisfied with Uribe's response.
Uribe reiterated on Wednesday his position that the attack was justified because fighters in the camp launched explosives that killed soldiers in his country.
"I don't regret it. In no way could I regret" carrying out the raid, Uribe said at a regional economic forum in Cancun, Mexico. "It would have been ideal not to have had to bomb a (foreign) territory," he conceded.
Ecuadorean Vice President Lenin Moreno later told reporters in Mexico City that Uribe's comments could mean another step backward for relations.
"Not only did they enter Ecuador's territory, they also killed Ecuadorean citizens and foreigners there," Moreno said. "We thought ... diplomatic ties could be restored soon, but unfortunately they keep making the same mistake and continue trying to justify an indefensible act."
Uribe met Tuesday with Calderon, who repeated previous requests for a full investigation into the students' deaths. Calderon also offered to help Colombia re-establish ties with Ecuador.