Gulf talks put aside

CARACAS, Venezuela – Venezuela and Colombia have agreed to set aside discussions on how to divide the Gulf of Venezuela during talks on border issues, Venezuela’s foreign minister said Tuesday.

“Any discussion or issue … regarding the demarcation of the territorial waters was totally excluded,” Venezuelan Foreign Minister Ali Rodriguez told a press conference.

Formal talks between representatives from Caracas and Bogota regarding border issues began last week in the Colombian city of Cartagena.

Last week, the defense ministers of Venezuela and Colombia agreed to discuss ways to cooperate in fighting terrorism and drug trafficking along the porous and troubled 1,400-mile (2,200 kilometer) border.

Violence stemming from Colombia’s four-decade armed conflict among left-leaning rebels, government troops and outlawed right-wing paramilitary groups often spills over into neighboring Venezuela.

On Monday, opposition lawmaker Julio Borges accused President Hugo Chavez of secretly negotiating an end to the dispute with Colombian authorities.

Borges accused Chavez of caving in to Colombian demands, saying president was involved in “a shady negotiation” involving Venezuela’s claim to the gulf that was discussed “behind the nation’s back.”

Venezuela and neighboring Colombia have long disputed how to divide the Gulf of Venezuela, which covers roughly 20,000 square kilometers (8,000 square miles) and extends from Venezuela and Colombia’s northern shores into the Caribbean Sea.

The border dispute has died down since tensions brought the two South American nations to the brink of war in the late 1980s.

Rodriguez denied the issue was discussed. He accused Borges, a fierce critic of Chavez’s “revolutionary” foreign policy, of “marring a relationship that has been more and more harmonious and positive.”

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