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U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres gestures during a joint news conference with Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos in Bogota, Colombia January 13, 2018. REUTERS/Jaime Saldarriaga(reuters_tickers)
BOGOTA (Reuters) - The United Nations is willing to send more resources to Colombia to help the Andean country care for hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans fleeing food shortages and economic devastation in their homeland, Secretary General Antonio Guterres said on Saturday.
Guterres is on a two-day visit to Colombia to discuss the progress of its peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels and ongoing peace talks with smaller guerrilla group the National Liberation Army (ELN), which recently re-started attacks after a months-long ceasefire.
Venezuelans fleeing acute food shortages, high crime and political unrest have flooded across the border to Colombia in recent years. Some visit just to buy groceries, while others begin lives from scratch, often working informally and without visas. Last year Colombia extended permits for Venezuelans in a humanitarian measure - the government estimates there are some 470,000 Venezuelans in the country.
"I want to manifest all the support of the United Nations to the government and people of Colombia in this humanitarian effort, the reception of all these people, and say that we are even willing to mobilise other international help as is possible," Guterres said after meeting with President Juan Manuel Santos, ministers and security officials.
There has long been diplomatic tension between the neighbouring governments. Santos has accused Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro of destroying democracy in Venezuela, while Maduro has said Colombia is part of an international conspiracy seeking to overthrow his government.
(Reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by David Gregorio)