Latin America & Caribbean

Colombia and Venezuela recall ambassadors over tensions

A Colombian girl who was deported looks on next to donated shoes in a temporary shelter Image copyright Reuters
Image caption More than 1,000 Colombians have been deported with many needing to use temporary shelters and donated clothes

Colombia and Venezuela have recalled their ambassadors following days of growing tension between the neighbouring nations.

More than 1,000 Colombians have been deported and about 6,000 have left in fear since Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro closed the border last week.

On Thursday Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said it was "unacceptable" and withdrew his envoy.

The Venezuelan government followed suit later in the day.

Mr Maduro closed the border and declared a state of emergency in the western state of Tachira, last Friday, after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian.

Announcing the recall of his ambassador, Mr Santos condemned the expulsions. "I can't allow Venezuela to treat Colombians and the Colombian government in this way," he said.

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Media captionColombian migrant in Venezuela: "Maduro is throwing us out like dogs"

He added that he would call for an extraordinary meeting of foreign ministers from the Union of South American Nations.

A while later, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez announced that Caracas was recalling its own ambassador to Colombia for consultations.

Smugglers have long operated along the porous border between the countries, purchasing heavily subsidised goods in Venezuela to resell in Colombia.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Colombian policemen have been helping people fleeing Venezuela to carry their belongings
Image copyright AFP
Image caption Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos visited a shelter in Cucuta on Wednesday

Talks by the countries' foreign ministers on Wednesday were aimed at normalising the situation in the key border region of Cucuta.

Hundreds are living in shelters there surrounded by the few possessions they could carry across the border on their backs.

President Maduro blames much of the violence on the Venezuelan side of the border on Colombian paramilitaries, whom he accuses of crossing the border freely to commit crimes.

In order to fight these gangs he declared a 60-day state of emergency on Friday which, among other things, allows the authorities to search homes without a warrant.

But his Colombian counterpart said those who had been deported were "no paramilitaries but poor and humble families who only want to live and work".

President Santos said some had complained of mistreatment by the Venezuelan security forces. The Venezuelan foreign minister dismissed allegations as "media lies".

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