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Colombia, Ecuador move toward normalizing ties

* Questions remain after 2008 Colombian bombing in Ecuador

* Colombia-Venezuela tensions high after Chavez war talk

BOGOTA, Nov 13 (Reuters) - Ecuador and Colombia on Friday exchanged embassy charges d'affaires in a step toward normalizing diplomatic relations cut by Ecuador last year over a cross-border spat that briefly threatened war in the region.

The naming of the diplomats was the first concrete step in the reestablishment of ties between the U.S.-backed conservative government of Colombia and that of socialist revolutionary Rafael Correa, the president of Ecuador.

Correa pulled Ecuadorean diplomats from Bogota in March 2008 after Colombia bombed a Marxist guerrilla camp set up on Ecuador's side of the border. The raid killed a key leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

The Ecuadorean leader called it a massacre and vowed to meet any more cross-border strikes with an armed response.

"Ecuador still has some pending issues with Colombia, such as giving a full explanation of the bombardment and making restitution for the attack. Once those issues are negotiated, ambassadors should be named," said Ricardo Avila, a Colombian political analyst who serves on a bi-lateral commission aimed at facilitating the restoration of ties.

Charge d'affaires is an embassy's No.2 position. Colombia named Ricardo Montenegro, head of its office for frontier economic development, as its charge in Quito, while Ecuador is sending career diplomat Andres Teran to Bogota.

While relations with Ecuador have improved in recent months, Colombia faces high tensions with Hugo Chavez, the firebrand socialist president of neighboring Venezuela, who last weekend ordered his army to prepare for war.

Washington sees Colombia as a buffer against Chavez and Correa. Colombian officials have accused both of turning a blind eye toward FARC activity in their countries.

At the same time Colombia is keen to preserve trade -- worth more than $7 billion with Venezuela and $2.3 billion with Ecuador last year -- as it tries to pull out of an economic recession.

Colombia's borders with both countries are hotbeds not only of legitimate trade but cocaine, arms and other contraband.

Chavez, who sent tanks to Venezuela's border with Colombia in the days after the 2008 Colombian raid in Ecuador, says a Colombia-U.S. military cooperation deal inked on October could set the stage for an invasion of Venezuela.

The Venezuelan leader caused a stir in the region Sunday by ordering his army to get ready for war. He later softened his rhetoric.

Editing by Paul Simao

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