Thu, Feb 17, 2005 - Page 7 News List

Venezuela and Colombia set aside their differences

DIPLOMATIC SPAT The two nations plan to bolster security along their shared border, and business deals that were frozen during the crisis are back on track

AP , CARACAS, VENEZUELA

The presidents of Venezuela and Colombia said on Tuesday they had resolved a diplomatic dispute spurred by the capture of a prominent Colombian rebel in Venezuela and would work together to improve border security by sharing intelligence.

After emerging from a meeting that lasted over four hours, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said his country would do everything possible to prevent Colombian rebels from seeking refuge in Venezuelan territory.

"We decided to turn the page, to clear things up," Chavez said.

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe said he and Chavez "have a commitment" to increasing security along their common border. "This implies cooperating so sovereignty is not affected," Uribe said.

Chavez said that commercial agreements -- including the construction of a gas pipeline connecting the two nations -- that had been frozen for weeks would be "reactivated."

Chavez, a fervent nationalist, had claimed that the capture of Colombian rebel Rodrigo Granda by bountyhunters off the streets of Caracas violated Venezuela's sovereignty. Uribe had expressed concerns that Colombian guerrillas have sought refuge in Venezuelan territory and that both nations should cooperate in denying them safe haven.

Both leaders have expressed concern about the relative ease with which rebels can come across their 2,200km border.

Both Chavez and Uribe acknowledged that Cuban President Fidel Castro played a role in lowering tension, and they also thanked the leaders of Peru and Brazil.

Chavez has accused the US of having a hand in Granda's capture to provoke Venezuela, an accusation the US State Department has denied. US officials, meanwhile, have said Venezuela should investigate whether other Colombian rebels are hiding within its borders.

Sitting next to Uribe at a news conference following their talks, Chavez rejected concerns expressed by Washington over the possibility that 100,000 assault rifles Venezuela plans to purchase from Russia could fall into the hands of Colombian rebel groups.

"We want to replace arms. Nobody should be worried about that," said Chavez, an outspoken critic of the US' foreign policy.

"If we were buying from them, they wouldn't be so worried because they love to sell arms," Chavez said.

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