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Colombia, Venezuela re-establish ties

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Colombia, Venezuela seek common ground
  • Juan Manuel Santos and Hugo Chavez met in Santa Marta, Colombia
  • Colombia has accused Venezuela of protecting rebels in its territory
  • Venezuela denies the allegations
  • Venezuela cut off diplomatic relations with Colombia last month

Santa Marta, Colombia (CNN) -- Venezuela and Colombia renewed diplomatic relations after a meeting between their heads of state in Santa Marta, Colombia.

Newly elected Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez also agreed on Tuesday to form five bi-national commissions to address issues such as commerce and security.

"I think we've taken a step forward in re-establishing confidence, which is one of the basic tenets of any relationship," Santos said. He described the meeting at Santa Marta, Colombia, as frank, direct and sincere.

The two countries were in a dispute over accusations that Venezuela is harboring Marxist guerrillas who want to overthrow the Colombian government.

Former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe said his country had evidence that there were rebel camps in Venezuela. Venezuela has denied the allegations.

Any accusations made in the past will not affect Venezuela's relationship going forward with the new Colombian president, Santos said, adding that relations between the two nations was "starting at zero."

"I came here to turn the page," Chavez said.

The two nations will open lines of communication to diffuse rumors or intelligence reports before they create tensions, Chavez said.

"Let's not allow that tomorrow rumors, reports, coordinates and I don't know what else make us fight again, because everything would fall down," Chavez said.

Chavez emphatically stated that he would not allow illegal groups, whether they be guerrillas or narcotraffickers, to operate in Venezuela.

The Colombian delegation arrived wearing white, including Santos, who wore a white shirt with khaki pants. When the Colombian presidential plane landed, a Colombian flag and a Venezuelan flag were waved from the cockpit.

For his part, Chavez arrived with red flowers to hand to the Colombians.

It was at least the third time in three years that relations between Venezuela and Colombia have been strained.

Chavez froze relations last year when Colombia signed a military agreement with the United States and in 2008 when Colombia conducted a raid against leftist guerrillas into Ecuadorian territory.

Santos was sworn in Saturday, vowing to unify his country around the goals of prosperity for all and of thwarting the nation's leftist rebels.

In an early test of Santos' diplomatic skills, his inauguration was attended by Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro.

Maduro held talks with his Colombian counterpart, Maria Angela Holguin, on Sunday and said he wanted to deliver a positive message from Chavez.

"We would like to deliver -- that's what President Hugo Chavez specifically indicated -- a message of love and solidarity to all of the people of Colombia; a message for the future and for hope," Maduro said.

"We would like to reach out with our loving hand of friendship and of fraternity to all of the people of Colombia."

Chavez also said on Saturday that he wanted to meet with Santos.

"I invited Santos to go to Caracas," Chavez said. "If he can't come, I'll go to Bogota."

"But I am telling you," Chavez said at another point in the speech, "the first disrespect to Venezuela, the first false accusation, and everything will be over."

Santos was elected president of Colombia in June with the highest vote total in his country's history, garnering more than 9 million ballots -- roughly 70 percent of the electorate. He ran as a conservative promising to improve Colombia's security.

During Santos' tenure as defense minister under former President Alvaro Uribe, the Colombian army scored important victories against Colombian guerrillas, including the liberation of a former presidential candidate, Ingrid Betancourt.

Chavez has said that under Uribe's eight-year presidency, Colombia had isolated itself and become "aggressive and violent."

Tensions between the South American neighbors have affected cross-border trade, which was worth a record $7.3 billion in 2008 but has fallen since then, according to the Venezuela-Colombia Integration Chamber.

CNN's Rafael Romo contributed to this report.