Colombian President-elect Juan Manuel Santos said Thursday that he hoped to repair his nation's tattered relationship with Venezuela and Ecuador — even as the Colombian government threatened to open fresh wounds in the ongoing battle.
Speaking in Coral Gables, Santos called on Ecuador and Venezuela to join in talks to resolve issues about trade and border security that "benefit everyone."
The plea came as the Colombian government announced Thursday morning that it had evidence that four leaders of the leftist Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia, or FARC, were living in Venezuela — a charge that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has denied in the past.
In an address to the Colombian-American Chamber of Commerce at the Biltmore Hotel, Santos said the issue of "terrorists in Venezuelan territory" needs to be discussed.
"You can have differences with your neighbors, but if you also have respect, you can have cordial relations," he said. "It's the people who suffer when leaders fight."
Santos also reiterated his invitation to Chavez and Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa to join him at his Aug. 7 inauguration. Correa has said he will attend, but Chavez is still on the fence.
Relations between the three Andean countries have been strained since 2008 when Santos -- then minister of defense -- approved a cross-border raid on a FARC camp inside Ecuador.
The raid killed the rebel group's second in command but it was a diplomatic fiasco. Ecuador's courts have charged Santos with murder and Venezuela has virtually stopped trading with Colombia.
Colombia's decision to allow U.S. military operations out of seven of its bases also has raised hackles in the region.
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