CARACAS – Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez on Saturday ordered his ambassador back to Colombia a few days after withdrawing him amid a crisis over plans to increase the number of U.S. troops in the neighboring country.
Consistent U.S. critic Chavez pulled his ambassador from Bogota on July 28 to protest Colombian plans to accept more U.S. troops at seven military bases and in anger at accusations he had supplied arms to Marxist rebels across the border.
But in a surprise announcement after an hours-long late-night meeting, Chavez delighted a group of left-wing Colombian peace campaigners by reversing the decision.
Nicolas, our ambassador Gustavo has given you all the reports he was going to, let him go back to Bogota. Return to Bogota Gustavo, Chavez said to his Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro and the ambassador, Gustavo Marquez.
In recent days he has also threatened sanctions against the Colombian state oil company Ecopetrol and said he would block some car imports from one of Venezuela's top trade partners.
Colombia says the extra U.S. troops are needed to help fight drug traffickers. but Chavez sees them as a threat against Venezuela. He says the plans could spark war in South America.
The socialist president frequently makes fiery threats against Colombia and its president, Alvaro Uribe, whose government says Chavez supports the FARC guerrillas who have fought Bogota for over four decades. Chavez usually backs down and seeks to make peace within a few days.
Colombia last month said weapons bought by Venezuela in Sweden had made their way to the FARC rebels.
U.S. President Barack Obama on Friday denied that Washington was opening new military bases in Colombia, comments Chavez dismissed as not credible.
(Reporting by Frank Jack Daniel, editing by Vicki Allen)