BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombian rebels no longer have camps in Venezuela, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said, in a sign of greatly improved ties the year after the two countries' spat over the guerrillas raised fears about regional stability.
The rebels regularly use the Andean neighbors' border to escape the Colombian military, causing serious friction between U.S. ally Colombia and Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez.
Last year, Washington critic Chavez briefly broke off diplomatic ties with Colombia over accusations his socialist government was sheltering the Marxist fighters.
Although once-flourishing trade between the two countries is still in the doldrums, overall relations have warmed significantly since Santos took office in August.
"President Chavez has assured me on many occasions ... he would not allow the presence of terrorists in his territory," Santos said in comments from Madrid published on the presidency's website Tuesday.
Last year, his predecessor, Alvaro Uribe, said 1,500 members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, were positioned in a mountainous area close to the border. Santos said his government had verified the camps were gone.
"They're not still there," he said. "We've seen more rebel activity on the border, that is, we've seen them moving to Colombia."
Santos praised Venezuela for handing over two guerrillas from a separate group Monday. They are accused of killing three naval soldiers and then fleeing Colombia.
Santos and Chavez met for the third time Saturday in a bid to restore trade that reached a peak of $7 billion before grinding to a halt amid escalating tensions over spillover from Colombia's war.
On two occasions, Chavez ordered troops to the border, saying he was defending Venezuela from the threat of a U.S.-backed invasion by Colombia.
(Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta and Jack Kimball; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Bill Trott)