Colombia’s President Alvaro Uribe on Wednesday urged Venezuela not to create divisions like the “Berlin Wall” between the feuding neighbors as he sought to cool a crisis fueled by border violence and espionage charges.
Ties between the Andean countries have frayed over the murders of nine Colombian civilians and two Venezuelan soldiers near the frontier and accusations from President Hugo Chavez that three Colombian agents were caught spying.
Venezuela and Colombia often spar over Colombia’s conflict spilling over the frontier. But the current dispute is damaging their $7 billion a year in trade after Chavez suspended ties in July and began reinforcing border security.
“Colombia would never build a Berlin Wall on the frontier, our countries can never be divided, they cannot be separated,” Uribe said on the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. He was speaking at an event for soldiers wounded in combat.
Venezuela blamed last month’s kidnap and murder of nine Colombians on paramilitaries and says Colombian militias also killed the two soldiers gunned down on Monday by assassins riding motorcycles. Colombia has called for an investigation.
Violence is common along the porous, 1,375-mile (2,200-km) border, where outlawed Colombian militias, leftist guerrillas, drug traffickers and contraband smugglers operate. Caracas blames Bogota for failing to curb illegal armed groups.
Chavez, a fierce adversary of U.S. influence in Latin America, has threatened to close the frontier and ramped up his aggressive rhetoric since the Venezuelan troops were killed.
“We’re ready to take whatever measures are needed, and we are taking them, increasing the number of units on the frontier line,” the former army officer said on Tuesday.
Tensions have flared over Colombia’s deal with the United States to allow U.S. troops more access to its military bases as part of cooperation against drug traffickers and leftist rebels fighting Latin America’s oldest insurgency.
Uribe, a staunch Washington ally, says the accord extends existing U.S. military cooperation. But Chavez has warned the military bases could be used to launch a U.S. offensive against his oil-producing country.
Venezuela is holding three men it accuses of spying for Colombia’s DAS security agency. But Colombia says it has no operations in Venezuela and only one of the men is a DAS agent, who was invited over the border by a Venezuelan colleague. (Reuters)