Colombia urges Venezuela to reopen border

Venezuelan troops close the Venezuela-Colombia border in Boca de Grita, Tachira state, on August 21, 2015 (AFP Photo/George Castellanos)

Bogota (AFP) - Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos urged Venezuela on Saturday to reconsider its decision to close its border in response to an attack by unidentified assailants on a military patrol.

"If it's for security reasons, the response should not be to close the border. It rather should be to cooperate more effectively with Colombian authorities," Santos said.

But the border stretch will not reopen, Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro said, "until the attack on Venezuela's economy from inside Colombia stops."

Still, Maduro welcomed news that a meeting of the neighbors' foreign ministers had been set for next week to address the row.

Maduro ordered the border closure after Wednesday's attack in the restive western state of Tachira, which borders Colombia.

Maduro had initially closed the border for 72 hours, but on Friday he extended it indefinitely and declared a state of emergency in Tachira, a hotbed of opposition to his leftist government.

Authorities said two assailants on a motorcycle fired on a patrol that was on a counter-smuggling mission in the town of San Antonio del Tachira, wounding three soldiers and a civilian.

Jose Gregorio Vielma, the governor of Tachira, said Venezuela authorities had captured eight suspected paramilitaries on Saturday, some of whom were connected to Wednesday's attack.

He also stated that 185 Colombians "who did not have any type of identification" had been deported peacefully.

Santos said the two countries had the same interest in eliminating gangs of smugglers that operate on the border, and should work more closely together.

Smuggling has surged along the border under Maduro and his predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez.

The Venezuelan government has blamed the smuggling of its heavily subsidized food and other goods to Colombia for the widespread shortages throughout Venezuela.