Venezuela: Relations With Colombia Normalized Following Cross-Border Dispute

Venezuela said Sunday that it was restoring full diplomatic ties with Colombia that were broken off in a regional crisis sparked by a cross-border Colombian attack on a leftist rebel camp in Ecuador.

The Venezuelan Foreign Ministry said it was reopening its embassy in Colombia and will allow back Colombian diplomats it expelled last week. It cited an easing of tensions at a summit in the Dominican Republic on Friday, where President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa shook hands with Colombia's U.S.-backed leader, Alvaro Uribe, after a tense debate.

Venezuela described the reconciliation as a "victory for peace and sovereignty."

Chavez ordered the Venezuelan embassy in Bogota closed and sent troops to the border with Colombia after Uribe's government carried out a March 1 strike in Ecuador that killed 25 people including Raul Reyes, a spokesman and top leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

Venezuela also said it was expelling Colombia's ambassador and all diplomatic personnel.

The crisis deescalated at the summit, where Colombia pledged not to follow through on its threat to seek genocide charges against Chavez at an international court for allegedly supporting the FARC, which finances its insurgency through kidnapping and the cocaine trade.

Uribe apologized for the raid and pledged not to violate another nation's sovereignty again. A joint statement issued at the summit also committed all the countries to fighting threats to national stability from "irregular or criminal groups," a reference to Colombia's accusation that its two neighbors have ties to rebels.

But the agreement didn't eliminate the causes of the crisis: the Colombian insurgency that has spilled across its borders, and a stalemate over international efforts to facilitate a swap of rebel-held hostages for imprisoned guerrillas.

Correa said Saturday on his weekly radio show that it will be "difficult to recover trust" in Uribe's government. Restoring diplomatic ties "will take a little time," he said.

For more than four decades the FARC has been battling to topple successive Colombian governments, with the stated goal of seizing power and more equitably distributing the wealth. The rebels have expressed an ideological affinity for the leftist Chavez.

Uribe, a conservative and Washington's closest ally in Latin America, and Chavez, an outspoken U.S. critic, have frequently been at odds in recent months.

Last fall, Uribe canceled Chavez's role in mediating toward a possible swap of hundreds of imprisoned FARC guerrillas for dozens of rebel-held hostages, including three U.S. military contractors and former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, a dual French citizen.

The move set off a war of words between the two countries. The FARC has since released six hostages directly to Chavez.

Following Colombia's raid on the FARC camp March 1, Chavez quickly rose to the defense of Correa, one of several leftist presidents to rise to power as U.S. influence in the region wanes.