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Diplomatic crisis between Colombia, Venezuela deepens as latter recalls ambassador
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13:13, November 28, 2007

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The diplomatic crisis between Colombia and Venezuela deepened Tuesday as Venezuela recalled its ambassador to its Latin American neighbor.

The crisis erupted last Wednesday when Colombian President Alvaro Uribe barred his Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chavez from mediating in hostage negotiations with Colombia's largest guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

The Uribe government said it was angry at Chavez for speaking directly to Colombian generals about the negotiations, and claimed he "was seeking a rebel government in Bogota."

In a Sunday television show Chavez said he was putting relations with Colombia on ice, and recalled the ambassador to Colombia back to Caracas Tuesday.

Colombia responded by saying that it is waiting for a clear definition of "on ice" and called for the international community to ignore Chavez's statements, accusing him of trying to set the continent aflame by attacking other nations.

The two leaders have ever since exchanged increasingly sharp words over the issue. Chavez accused Uribe of looking for excuses to end the peace process and said Colombia "deserves a better president," while Uribe claimed that Chavez is pushing an "expansionist project" across Latin America and seems to want Colombia to fall "victim to a terrorist FARC government."

Since August, Chavez has been seeking to strike a humanitarian accord between the Colombian government and the rebel group to free hostages held by rebels, including three U.S. defense contractors and French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt.

Colombian Foreign Minister Fernando Araujo said Tuesday that Colombia will not recall its ambassador from neighboring Venezuelafor consultations, despite Venezuela doing that to its Colombian representative.

"We are clear about what the Colombian government's interests are and the real enemy is FARC, which takes advantage of these types of spaces to create new ways of fighting. We will continue monitoring the situation in order to take the appropriate decisions," said Araujo.

"The enemy of the Colombian people is FARC," he added.

The rebel group also issued their first statement on recent events Tuesday, saying that Chavez's participation in the fledgling talks had been "the only hope" for a deal.

The rebel leader who had traveled to Caracas to meet with the Venezuelan president earlier this month thanked Chavez for trying to stimulate talks.

Since taking office in 2002, Uribe's government has not met with the rebels. Some FARC hostages have been held for more than 10 years.

Venezuela is home to around 600,000 Colombians, many of whom are refugees from the nation's 40-year-old internal conflict. Venezuela has legalized the bulk of these refugees, giving them access to healthcare and education.

Venezuela and Colombia have 2,200 kilometers of shared border and 6 billion U.S. dollars of trade each year, making them among Latin America's most active trade partners.

Around three years ago the presidents of the two countries argued about the capture of FARC "foreign minister" Rodrigo Grandain Venezuelan territory.

Colombia's High Commissioner for Peace Luis Carlos Restrepo has proposed that Granda be the new facilitator for the humanitarian accord.


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