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Venezuelan relations with Colombia put ‘in freezer’

By Xinhua

Caracas : Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has said he was putting relations with Colombia “in the freezer”, while neighbouring country’s Alvaro Uribe charged that Chavez was seeking a rebel government in Bogota.

“I am putting (Colombia) on ice because I no longer trust anyone in the government and because they acted in a truly inappropriate manner,” Chavez said Sunday.

Chavez also described his Colombian counterpart Uribe as “a liar” after Uribe barred him from mediating with the rebels.

Speaking on a television broadcast Sunday, Chavez said he had ordered a ministerial commission to review the two nations’ ties in trade, economy, energy and military after his suspension from mediation with Colombia’s anti-government group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

Responding to the remarks, Uribe charged that Chavez was seeking a FARC government in Bogota, saying that “your words, your positions, suggest you are not interested in peace in Colombia, but rather in Colombia becoming the victim of a terrorist government of the FARC.”

Uribe said that Colombia needs mediation with terrorists, but not people who try to lend legitimacy to terrorism.

Chavez had been trying to mediate between the FARC and the Colombian government for the release of hostages held by the rebel group, including Ingrid Betancourt, a French-Colombian citizen who was kidnapped in 2002 while campaigning for the presidency.

However, Chavez was fired of his mediation role last week after the Colombian government said it was angered by Chavez’s speaking directly to Colombian generals about the negotiations.

Chavez said he was disappointed that Uribe had failed to contact him when faced with rumours and misunderstandings.

The Venezuelan president also warned that Colombian businesses should prepare themselves for sanctions to be announced in coming days.

In statement Saturday, the Colombian government said it seeks to maintain good relations with Venezuela and will continue to seek the so-called Humanitarian Exchange via different channels.

The “Exchange” is a shorthand used in Colombia to describe a planned swap of around 50 high-level hostages held by the FARC for around 500 FARC fighters held in Colombian jails.

Venezuela and Colombia have 2,200 km of shared border and $6 billion of trade each year, making them Latin America’s most active trade partners.

In October, the two nations opened the first stretch of the trans-Caribbean natural gas pipeline, which is also expected to be extended to Panama and Ecuador.