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UN calls for Venezuela-Colombia dialogue over FARC row

Venezuela President Hugo Chávez severed ties after Colombia accused its neighbor of harboring Marxist guerrillas of the FARC rebel group. UN and Latin American leaders are calling for dialogue and restraint.

By Staff writer / July 22, 2010

Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez speaks to the media at Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas, Venezuela, July 22. Chávez severed Venezuela's diplomatic relations with Colombia on Thursday over claims he harbors guerrillas of the FARC rebel group.

Fernando Llano/AP

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Mexico City

International observers are calling for restraint and dialogue between Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, after Venezuela cut off diplomatic ties with its neighbor Thursday.

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The latest spat between the fierce foes comes after Colombia presented evidence alleging that Venezuela is giving shelter to leftist rebels, a charge Venezuela denies. It comes as Colombia inaugurates its new president, Juan Manuel Santos, Aug. 7, and highlights the incoming administration's challenge of smoothing over a decade of diplomatic difficulties with Venezuela.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called for restraint. “The Secretary-General hopes that the differences between Colombia and Venezuela will be worked out through dialogue,” according to a UN statement issued Thursday night. Latin American leaders reiterated calls for dialogue, some even offering to step in as mediators.

With none able thus far to prevent the two leaders from sparring, this latest fight might seem to create an insurmountable obstacle to improved relations. But Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington, says pragmatics and voter sentiment will drive the relationship in the coming years, and that calmer seas are ahead – despite this most recent spat.

“This is vintage Chávez, and vintage Uribe, playing out their last act together as presidents at each other for eight years,” says Mr. Shifter. “But I think when Santos takes over, things are going to calm down. I think there is a lot at stake for both countries.”

On Thursday, the Colombian ambassador to the Organization of American States (OAS) presented evidence to back up charges that Chávez is protecting Marxist guerrillas, including aerial photos and videos. He demanded that Venezuela allow international teams to inspect sites where Colombia alleges some 1,500 rebels are hiding. "We have the right to demand that Venezuela doesn't hide those wanted by Colombia," Luis Alfonso Hoyos said.

His Venezuelan counterpart, Roy Chaderton, called the evidence suspect. Chávez has long denied Colombian accusations against him. On Friday, however, the US State Department said the allegations should be taken "very seriously."

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