Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 29 July 2014

Colombia and Venezuela restore ties

Venezuela President Hugo Chavez and Colombia President Juan Manuel Santos

The presidents of Colombia and Venezuela have said they will restore diplomatic relations severed 20 days ago by Caracas, ending a dispute over allegations that Colombian rebels have camps in Venezuela.

The rapprochement came in a meeting between Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Colombia's new leader, Juan Manuel Santos, in the city of Santa Marta on Colombia's Caribbean coast.

"We have decided that the two countries will re-establish diplomatic relations," Santos said afterwards. "President Chavez has said that he is not going to allow the presence of outlaw groups in his territory."

Chavez said the countries are starting down a new road after eight years of often-prickly relations under Santos' predecessor, Alvaro Uribe, who repeatedly accused Chavez's socialist-oriented government of supporting the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and allowing its guerrillas to set up bases on Venezuelan territory.

Chavez denied the allegations and blasted Colombia's close ties with Washington and Uribe's decision to give US troops more access to Colombian military bases in the war against drugs.

Santos, who was elected in a landslide and sworn in to office on Saturday, was Uribe's defense minister. In the run-up to Colombia's presidential election Chavez expressed concern about the effect a Santos win would have on ties between the countries.

But he said: "I came here to turn the page, president ... and I think that the conversation we had was fraternal."

The latest flare-up in Venezuelan-Colombian tensions came on July 22 when Chavez broke off diplomatic ties after Uribe's government publicly presented photos, videos and maps of what it said were Colombian rebel camps inside Venezuela. Chavez accused of Uribe of trying to stir up a war in his final days in office.

Colombia is fighting a bloody, decades-long conflict with the FARC and the smaller National Liberation Army. Uribe's government gained strong popularity by dealing blows to the guerrillas and reducing violence in his war-weary country.

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