Venezuela orders ambassador back to Colombia

August 10, 2009 - 0:0

CARACAS (AP) -- President Hugo Chavez announced he is sending his ambassador back to Colombia, signaling a willingness to ease a diplomatic impasse while not backing down from opposing Colombia's plan to open its military bases to a bigger U.S. presence.

Chavez said as he met with a group of Colombian opposition politicians Saturday night that he still firmly opposes President Alvaro Uribe's plan to allow American troops to use at least seven Colombian military bases, calling it a threat to Venezuela and the region.
“The decision to freeze relations with Uribe's government remains,” Chavez told reporters. “We have plenty of reasons to be highly concerned.”
Chavez told Ambassador Gustavo Marquez earlier Saturday to return to Bogota, 11 days after he ordered the diplomat home amid the dispute. It remained unclear how soon the Marquez would return.
Colombian officials have said Venezuela has no reason to be concerned, and that the U.S. forces would help fight drug trafficking. Colombian officials also say the proposed 10-year agreement would not boost the presence of American troops and civilian military contractors above the 1,400 currently permitted by U.S. law.
“We're not telling Colombia what it has to do with its territory,” Chavez said in an interview from Caracas with Colombia's RCN television. “But we have the right to make warnings, and that's what we're doing.”
The group of visiting Colombian opposition politicians was led by Sen. Jaime Dussan, who also condemned Colombia's plan to allow a larger U.S. military presence. Dussan said the group hopes that regular diplomatic and trade relations eventually can be restored.
Tensions between the neighboring nations have also heightened over Colombia's disclosure that three Swedish-made anti-tank weapons found at a rebel camp last year had been purchased by Venezuela's military.
Chavez has accused Colombia — one of its largest trading partners — of acting irresponsibly in its accusation that anti-tank rocket launchers sold to Venezuela in 1988 were obtained by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.
Chavez has assured visiting Colombian politicians that he is willing to work with Colombia to settle the diplomatic dispute. “I think we should resume ... the path to an agreement with Colombia. Venezuela is willing to search for a political way out,” Chavez said.
He also met early Saturday with Colombian Sen. Piedad Cordoba and Alan Jara, a politician and former FARC hostage. On Thursday, Colombian President Ernesto Samper visited Venezuela in an attempt to improve relations.
Uribe's government said late Friday that only the nation's president and foreign minister are authorized to act regarding foreign relations.
Relations between Venezuela and Colombia previously reached a low point last year, after Colombia attacked a FARC camp in Ecuador. Chavez and Uribe later made amends.
Colombian officials have long alleged that Chavez's government aids the FARC by giving senior rebel leaders refuge and allowing the guerrillas to smuggle tons of cocaine through the country — allegations that Chavez denies.