September 22, 2015 / 2:01 AM / 4 years ago

Venezuela and Colombia agree to restore ambassadors after spat

(L-R) Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro, Uruguay's President Tabare Vazquez, Ecuador's President Rafael Correa and Colombia's President Juan Santos hold hands after their meeting at the Carondelet Palace, in Quito, Ecuador in this handout picture provided by Miraflores Palace on September 21, 2015. REUTERS/Miraflores Palace/Handout via Reuters

QUITO (Reuters) - Venezuela and Colombia agreed on Monday to restore their respective ambassadors following a diplomatic spat sparked by Venezuela’s closure of the border between the two countries and the deportation of hundreds of Colombians.

The two Andean nations had expelled each other’s envoys amid a campaign in August by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to crack down on smuggling of subsidized fuel and food that angered Colombia’s government.

Maduro met with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos in Ecuador to defuse tensions, with the two sides agreeing to “progressively normalize the border” and to hold ministerial meetings in Caracas about the border situation on Wednesday.

“The two heads of state committed to building an agreement, oriented toward fraternal coexistence, that will resolve the problems of the shared border,” said a joint statement read out by Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa.

Venezuela’s price controls and heavy subsidies create opportunities for smugglers to buy anything from corn flour to toothpaste and resell the goods across the border at an enormous profit.

Maduro shuttered the border after an attack on troops by alleged paramilitary groups.

Authorities deported some 1,400 Colombians who authorities said were linked to paramilitaries or were in the country illegally. Some were forced to leave homes in Venezuelan border towns and cross rivers with their belongings on their backs.

Tensions rose further in recent weeks as Colombia said Venezuelan aircraft had violated its airspace and that Venezuelan troops had crossed the border and burned a motorcycle.

The sparsely populated 2,219 km (1,378 miles) border has frequently been a source of tensions between the two countries and was often at the center of diplomatic spats between late Venezuelan socialist leader Hugo Chavez and former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe.

Reporting by Alexandra Valencia; Writing by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Leslie Adler

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