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Chavez: Venezuela to return ambassador to Colombia

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — President Hugo Chavez said Saturday he's returning his ambassador to Colombia, moving to resolve rising diplomatic tensions after weapons sold to Venezuela were found in a rebel cache.

Chavez told Ambassador Gustavo Marquez to return to Bogota 11 days after recalling him over Colombia's statement that the anti-tank weapons came from Venezuela.

"Go back to Bogota, Gustavo," Chavez said. "Go to work."

Chavez had accused Colombia of acting irresponsibly in its accusation that anti-tank rocket launchers sold to Venezuela by Sweden during the 1980s were obtained by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. Sweden confirmed the weapons were originally sold to Venezuela's military.

Tensions between the neighboring nations have also become increasingly heated over Colombia's efforts negotiate an agreement with Washington, which would grant the U.S. military long-term leases on seven bases.

But Chavez assured a group of visiting Colombian activists that he won't follow through on threats to sever diplomatic ties completely.

The group, headed by Sen. Piedad Cordoba and Alan Jara, a former FARC hostage, came on the heels of a Thursday visit by former Colombian President Ernesto Samper, who had also come to aid efforts to ease relations.

Cordoba, a close Chavez ally, asked Chavez to consider returning Marquez to his post, saying: "You need to send him." She later told reporters that the meeting's success offered "a very important message" to the FARC regarding the need for dialogue.

Chavez also said he was willing to work with Colombia to reach an agreement, but asked President Alvaro Uribe to "be reasonable and put yourself in our shoes."

Chavez, who has long been a critic of U.S. influence in the region, has warned an increased U.S. military presence in Colombia could destabilize the region. Colombian officials have said that Venezuela should not be concerned, and that the U.S. forces would help fight drug trafficking.

"Venezuela is willing to look for a political way out, a way out for peace," Chavez said, alleging U.S. officials were looking to start a war.

"They've planned it there in the Pentagon," he said, without offering proof.

Relations between Venezuela and Colombia previous reached a low point last year, after Colombia attacked a FARC camp in Ecuador. Chavez responded by temporarily pulling his ambassador from Bogota and briefly dispatching troops to the 1,400-mile (2,300-kilometer) border with Colombia.

Colombian officials have long alleged that Chavez's government aids the FARC by giving senior rebel leaders refuge and allowing the guerrillas to smuggle tons of cocaine through the country — allegations that Chavez denies.

After Chavez and Uribe made amends last year, relations calmed between the two nations.