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Conference Ends with No Progress on Colombia-Venezuela Dispute
A meeting of foreign ministers of the 12-member Union of South American Nations, or Unasur, ended with no progress toward resolving the diplomatic crisis between Venezuela and Colombia

QUITO – A meeting of foreign ministers of the 12-member Union of South American Nations, or Unasur, ended with no progress toward resolving the diplomatic crisis between Venezuela and Colombia.

Venezuela broke relations with neighboring Colombia on July 22 over Bogota’s claims that the leftist Venezuelan government is sheltering Colombian rebels, accusations denied by Caracas.

The foreign minister of Ecuador, which currently occupies the Unasur rotating presidency, spoke to reporters after more than four hours of closed-door talks in Quito.

Ricardo Patiño praised his Unasur colleagues’ commitment to peace and the impetus they provided for efforts to resolve the regional dispute.

He acknowledged, however, that the discussions produced no consensus on a plan.

“We won’t have an official document signed by each one of the foreign ministers, because different positions continue to exist,” Patiño said during a press conference at the Ecuadorian Foreign Ministry, flanked by his counterparts from Venezuela and Colombia.

The discussion did evince a shared commitment to “avoid the presence of irregular (armed) groups that hurt harmony in the region, that conduct activities outside the law and that disturb the existence of peace in every one of our countries,” Ecuador’s top diplomat said.

Patiño said the foreign ministers will ask for the convening of a summit of Unasur heads of state “as soon as possible” to address the problem “at the highest level.”

But the timing of such a summit could be tricky, given that one of the protagonists, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, is set to leave office Aug. 7

The Ecuadorian foreign minister said it was important that Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro and Colombia’s Jaime Bermudez sat down with their Unasur colleagues in pursuit of a solution.

Also taking part in Thursday’s meeting were the foreign ministers of Argentina, Hector Timerman; Bolivia, David Choquehuanca; Chile, Alfredo Moreno; Peru, Jose Antonio Garcia Belaunde; and Uruguay, Luis Almagro.

Brazil and Paraguay were represented by their deputy foreign ministers, while Suriname sent its ambassador to Brazil.

Bogota, which has displayed photographs of alleged Colombian rebel outposts in Venezuela, says Caracas is allowing some 1,500 leftist guerrillas to shelter in its territory.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez denies the allegation and says that Uribe, who is completing his second four-year term, “hates Venezuela.”

Chavez said last week he was confident that Colombian President-elect Juan Manuel Santos, though a conservative like Uribe, wanted better relations with Venezuela and he suggested bilateral talks could begin after the new head of state takes office.

Marked by ups and downs for much of the past decade, Colombian-Venezuelan relations have been on a downward slide since last August, when Chavez ordered ties “frozen” after Bogota again accused his government of supplying weapons to Colombia’s main insurgency, the FARC.

The rift widened with the signing in December 2009 of a pact between Washington and Bogota giving the U.S. Armed Forces access to seven military bases in Colombia. EFE

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