Venezuelan, Colombian leaders to meet Saturday on border crisis

Venezuelan nationals returning from Colombia walk toward the border in Paraguachon, Zulia state, Venezuela, on September 9, 2015 (AFP Photo/Juan Barreto)

Quito (AFP) - Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and Colombia's Juan Manuel Santos have agreed to meet on their escalating border crisis, which has uprooted more than 20,000 people, a top diplomat said Thursday.

"For us, it's great news in the situation we're in that the presidents of Venezuela and Colombia have accepted this invitation," said Ecuadoran Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino, whose country is mediating in the standoff.

He said the Colombian and Venezuelan foreign ministers would hold talks Saturday in Ecuador to pave the way for a subsequent meeting between the two presidents, who have exchanged barbed comments since the crisis began.

Colombia and Venezuela have been in a spiraling row since Maduro closed part of their shared border on August 19, blaming Colombian paramilitaries for an attack on a Venezuelan anti-smuggling patrol.

He accused Colombia of waging "an attack on Venezuela's economy," a reference to the rampant smuggling of heavily subsidized goods out of the oil-rich but shortage-hit socialist country.

Venezuela has deported some 1,500 Colombians living in Venezuela since the crisis began, and more than 18,500 others have fled in fear, the United Nations said Tuesday.

An earlier meeting between Colombian Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin and her Venezuelan counterpart Delcy Rodriguez on August 26 failed to end the war of words between the two countries.

Both nations recalled their ambassadors the following day.