BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos on Thursday recalled the country’s ambassador to Venezuela after the socialist-run country closed two border crossings and deported over a thousand Colombians.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro shut the crossings last week after a shootout between smugglers and troops wounded three soldiers. He later extended the closing indefinitely and has characterized the deportations as a crackdown on paramilitary gangs.
“I have favored dialogue and I will keep doing so, but I cannot allow Venezuela to treat Colombia and Colombians this way,” the conservative Santos said in Bogota.
There was no immediate response to Santos’ announcement from the government in Caracas.
Nearly 1,100 Colombians living in Venezuela have been deported since the closure, and Santos said between 5,000 and 6,000 more have fled voluntarily.
Many of those deported said their houses had been destroyed. Hundreds have waded across the river on the border carrying refrigerators, animals and mattresses.
Maduro says the deportations are part of a crackdown on Colombian paramilitaries who smuggle fixed-price goods and traffic drugs on the porous 2,219-km (1,379-mile) border.
Speaking earlier on Thursday, the Venezuelan leader said he hoped the Colombian government would “regain its sanity” and do more to protect the border. “Until that happens, I won’t open the border,” he said at a rally.
The foreign ministers of the two countries met on Wednesday but were unable to reach an agreement on the situation.
The spat recalls the frequent disputes between Venezuela and Colombia during the 14-year rule of Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chavez. Critics say Maduro is copying his late mentor by stoking a crisis with his neighbor to distract Venezuelans from their economic problems in the run-up to a parliamentary election in December.
Additional reporting by Monica Garcia in Bogota and Eyanir Chinea in Caracas; Editing by Leslie Adler