Page last updated at 06:48 GMT, Saturday, 12 July 2008 07:48 UK

Uribe and Chavez hail 'new era'

Hugo Chavez (left) and Alvaro Uribe - 11/07/2008
The left-leaning Mr Chavez and pro-US Mr Uribe have made conciliatory noises

President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and his Colombian counterpart Alvaro Uribe say they want to promote closer ties, after months of political tension.

Speaking after a one-day meeting in Venezuela, Mr Chavez said that a new era of co-operation was dawning.

For his part, Mr Uribe said the two countries could resolve their disputes.

Relations hit their lowest point in March, when Mr Chavez sent troops to the border following a Colombian raid against a rebel camp inside Ecuador.

Analysts say improving links will be of political and economic benefit to both.

Although the two countries are major trading partners, relations have suffered because their two leaders come from opposite ends of the political spectrum.

'Turn the page'

Mr Uribe is a right-winger who is a close ally of the United States, while socialist Mr Chavez regularly denounces Washington and has allied himself with Cuba.

We said some harsh things, [but] between brothers these things happen
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez

The two men also differed sharply over Colombia's Farc rebel group, with Mr Uribe seeking military action against it, while Mr Chavez promoted dialogue with the group.

But the freeing of 15 high-profile Farc hostages - including former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt - by the Colombian army last week has strengthened Mr Uribe's position, correspondents say.

Before meeting Mr Uribe in the northern Venezuelan town of Punto Fijo, Hugo Chavez said he would treat his Colombian counterpart as a "brother".

After their talks, Mr Chavez said: "As of now, a new era begins with Colombia.

"We can completely turn the page on a stormy past.

"We will relaunch our ties, starting on a personal level and then moving on to political, social and economic relations."

Colombia is Venezuela's second-largest trading partner after the United States, and enjoys a trade surplus with its neighbour.


At the height of their dispute earlier this year, Bogota accused President Chavez of funding the Farc - the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

Hugo Chavez presents Alvaro Uribe with a portrait of Simon Bolivar
Chavez presented Uribe with a portrait of Latin American hero Simon Bolivar

Mr Chavez denies the claims, saying any contact was related to negotiations to secure the release of hostages it was holding.

President Chavez has distanced himself from the Farc in recent weeks, calling on them to end their campaign of violence.

The BBC's Jeremy McDermott in Colombia says that despite the political differences between their leaders, the two neighbours need to get on for their mutual political and economic health.

Mr Chavez's position on the Farc was not popular in Venezuela and he wants his supporters to do well in November's elections for the National Assembly, our correspondent says.

Mr Uribe is still basking in international praise since the Colombian army freed Ms Betancourt and 14 other prominent hostages from the guerrillas this month, he adds.

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