August 10, 2009 / 3:19 PM / 10 years ago

FACTBOX-Friction between Colombia and its neighbors

Aug 10 (Reuters) - Colombia’s conservative President Alvaro Uribe stayed away from a summit in Ecuador on Monday where South American leaders criticized Bogota’s plan to host U.S. soldiers at seven bases for counter-narcotics operations.

Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva suggested a meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama to calm tempers, while the region’s leftists such as Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez called Uribe a traitor and said the plan could spark armed conflict.

Following are some facts about Colombia’s often thorny relations with its neighbors:

* Coffee exporter Colombia’s vast borders with its five land neighbors — Brazil, Ecuador, Panama, Peru and Venezuela — cover some of the world’s most rugged terrain and are ideal hiding places for the country’s many guerrillas, paramilitary fighters and drug traffickers.

* The longest frontier is the 1,375-mile (2,200-km) border between Venezuela and Colombia. The two nations also share hundreds of years of volatile history. After both were liberated from the Spanish by Venezuelan freedom fighter Simon Bolivar in the 19th century, they were at the center of a short-lived nation known as Gran Colombia that also included Ecuador and Panama.

* Colombia’s four-decade civil war has for years spilled over to its neighbors, but the ideological closeness of Chavez and the FARC Marxist rebels has increasingly led Uribe’s government to accuse the Venezuelan leader of supporting the guerrillas. Colombian officials also say Ecuador’s president, Rafael Correa, is too lenient on the rebels.

* Guerrilla groups and their right-wing paramilitary foes have long found havens across all of Colombia’s borders, but U.S. and Colombian officials say Chavez and Correa turn more of a blind eye than other governments. Correa and Chavez retort that they to spend millions of dollars and put lives at risk defending their borders from Colombia’s internal strife and say they do not take sides.

* Relations with Ecuador collapsed last year after a Colombian bombing raid on a FARC camp across the border sparked troop movements from Quito and Caracas. Correa has still not returned his ambassador to Bogota and Uribe rejected an invitation to Monday’s joint inauguration of Correa’s second term and the summit of South American presidents in Quito.

* Brazil’s moderate government has less volatile relations with its neighbor to the north and has played a calming role in the present crisis. Brazil and Colombia agreed in March to patrol their borders together against drug traffickers.

* Chavez briefly recalled his diplomats from Colombia in July, the third such move since 2005, when a FARC leader was arrested in Caracas in a Colombian-led police operation.

* Uribe’s government has threatened to take Chavez to international court, charging he supported genocide by leftist Colombian rebels. In calmer times, Chavez and Uribe have displayed a rapport, exchanging hugs and jokes and striking a cross-border natural gas pipeline deal. (Reporting by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by John O’Callaghan)

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