Colombia, Venezuela to reopen border: Presidents

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro (right) and his Colombian counterpart Juan Manuel Santos at a joint press conference after a meeting in Puerto Ordaz, Venezuela, on Aug 11.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro (right) and his Colombian counterpart Juan Manuel Santos at a joint press conference after a meeting in Puerto Ordaz, Venezuela, on Aug 11.PHOTO: EPA

PUERTO ORDAZ (AFP) - Venezuela and Colombia agreed Thursday (Aug 11) to reopen pedestrian border crossings between their countries, a year after Venezuela closed the frontier in a dispute over security and smuggling.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said he and his Venezuelan counterpart agreed to open five pedestrian crossings for 15 hours a day from Saturday.

"What we are going to do is open the border gradually," Santos told reporters after talks with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

"It will be a temporary opening schedule while we learn and adapt to the decisions so that each step we take will be accurate and positive."

Maduro said he hoped the reopening would lead to a "new frontier of peace" and "a new beginning for economic and trade relations."

Santos said they would continue discussions about opening up the border to cargo vehicles.

He added that they were discussing the possibility of setting up Venezuelan gas stations on the Colombian side where Venezuela could sell its petrol.

At the talks in the eastern Venezuelan town of Puerto Ordaz, the leaders said they reviewed reports by their advisers on cross-border smuggling and security.

Security was the top issue at the border, Santos said. The two countries this week set up a joint initiative to fight organized crime.

"This is very important because it is going to make it possible for the rest of the border to operate peacefully," he said.

Santos said the two countries also agreed to exchange customs information to fight petrol smuggling - one reason Maduro cited for closing the border.

Maduro sealed off his country's 2,200-kilometer western border on Aug 19 last year after an attack on a Venezuelan army patrol which wounded three people.

He said at the time that right-wing paramilitaries from Colombia were to blame.

The leftist leader has briefly reopened the border in recent weeks to allow Venezuelans to stock up on food, medicine and other basic supplies.

Tens of thousands of Venezuelans streamed into the Colombian city of Cucuta last month, taking advantage of the temporary reopening.

Venezuela is facing severe shortages in an economic crisis fuelled by the global crash in the price of oil, its main export.

Maduro's opponents also accuse him of mishandling the state-led economy. They are trying to call a referendum on removing him from office.

The United Nations said Venezuela deported hundreds of Colombians last year after the border was closed and that thousands more fled back to Colombia for fear of being expelled.

The UN Interamerican Commission on Human Rights said the situation caused a humanitarian crisis and that deported Colombians' rights were violated.

Caracas denied the allegation.