March 8, 2008 / 1:36 AM / 11 years ago

Ecuador says not ready to restore Colombia ties

QUITO (Reuters) - Ecuador will take its time to restore diplomatic ties with Colombia, even though the two countries have resolved a week-long crisis over a Colombian military raid against guerrillas hiding in Ecuador, the president said on Saturday.

Colombia's President Alvaro Uribe (L) and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez (R) talk, as Dominican President Leonel Fernandez looks on after they agreed to resolve the crisis set off by an attack on a FARC guerrilla camp inside Ecuadorian territory by the Colombian armed forces last week at the 20th Group of Rio Summit in Santo Domingo, March 7, 2008. REUTERS/HO/Presidencia Colombia/Alfonso Ocanto

Leftist-led allies Ecuador, Nicaragua and Venezuela cut ties with Colombia and condemned the raid, which killed more than 20 guerrillas. Ecuador and Venezuela also sent troops to their borders with Colombia.

“We’ll talk about renewing diplomatic relations. We’ll make a timetable. It’s going to take some time,” Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa said in his weekly radio address on Saturday.

Nicaragua and Venezuela announced they would reestablish ties with Colombia during a Latin American summit on Friday that ended in handshakes between leaders who had been verbally attacking each other all week.

The diplomatic crisis was Latin America’s worst in years.

It pitted U.S.-backed Colombia, which is fighting a four-decade insurgency by Marxist rebels, against leftist leaders in the increasingly anti-U.S. region. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who is stridently opposed to the administration of President George W. Bush, led the anti-Colombian chorus.

Ecuador and Venezuela said Colombia should be negotiating with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, to seek peace.

But Colombian President Alvaro Uribe is popular at home because of his hard-line approach to the FARC, which has killed and kidnapped thousands of people.

The March 1 raid that killed top FARC leader Raul Reyes was a significant blow to the insurgency and Colombia found data on computers that it said prove that Venezuela and Ecuador were aiding the guerrillas.

Analysts say that even though Uribe appeared isolated during a week of anti-Colombian rhetoric from leaders all over Latin America, the guerrilla computer files are strong cards he can play against the rebels and against his neighbors: Ecuador and Venezuela.

Uribe apologized to Ecuador and said it would not conduct such cross-border operations in future, but asked for more cooperation from his neighbors in fighting the guerrillas.

Correa said he would coordinate with his ally Chavez to decide the time line for both countries to send ambassadors back to Bogota.

Trade along the Colombia-Ecuador border was not affected.

But Venezuela had restricted commerce with Colombia during the week along their much longer border. On Saturday truck traffic was returning to normal along the frontier, where Venezuelan towns depend on fuel and food from Colombia. Venezuela-Colombia trade last year totaled $6 billion.

“The border situation is getting back to normal. Commercial relations as far as trade, and as far as gasoline supplies, are getting back to normal,” Venezuelan Interior Minister Ramon Rodriguez told reporters on Saturday.

Reporting by Alexandra Valencia in Quito and Deisy Buitrago in Caracas; writing by Fiona Ortiz; Editing by Eric Walsh

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