BOGOTA Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos on Friday dismissed as "crazy" accusations made by his Venezuelan counterpart Nicolas Maduro that Santos is involved in a plot to overthrow him, and called for a diplomatic solution to the dispute.
Santos met with Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles earlier this week, triggering a furious reaction from Maduro, who accused Santos of "betrayal" and said he was in cahoots with Capriles to plot against him.
"It's crazy to think that the Colombian government might be aware, or even worse, backing some kind of action to destabilize the Venezuelan government," Santos said in a speech in southwestern Colombia.
He said that any misunderstanding between the countries should be resolved through diplomatic channels.
The South American nations have had patchy relations for the last decade due largely to ideological differences, but Santos' diplomatic approach since taking office in 2010 led to a detente.
Capriles' visit to Santos on Tuesday was part of a planned tour through Latin American countries to press his case that an election last month that Maduro won by just 1.5 percent of the vote was fraudulent.
Maduro, the political heir of late socialist president Hugo Chavez, said the meeting led him to put bilateral relations under review and withdraw his envoy to peace talks under way in Cuba between the Colombian government and Marxist rebels.
The head of Bogota's negotiating team on Friday said he hoped Colombia and Venezuela would be able to patch up relations because the latter's presence has been helpful for the talks, which are aimed at putting an end to five decades of war.
"The role played by Venezuela has been very important to facilitate the talks, very important. We hope this won't be interrupted," Humberto de la Calle said.
In the past, Maduro, a 50-year-old former bus driver and union leader, has accused the United States as well as former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe of plotting to assassinate him.
Then came charges that Salvadoran mercenaries were out to assassinate him and sabotage the power grid to sow chaos.
Such finger-pointing has been a mainstay of Venezuelan politics since Chavez was first elected president in 1998 and began pushing ahead with what he called a "socialist revolution" that pitted the government against the private sector and U.S. "imperialism."
Chavez died in March after a long battle with cancer. Maduro, who lacks Chavez's charisma and has proven less popular among the poor majority, went so far as to suggest Chavez's illness might have been caused by enemies in the United States.
(Editing by Eric Walsh)