Colombia, Venezuela presidents to meet in Caracas

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombian President Gustavo Petro and his Venezuelan counterpart Nicolas Maduro will meet in Caracas on Tuesday to discuss their countries' recently-thawed bilateral ties and expanded trade, the Colombian government said on Monday.

The neighbors' fraught relationship has improved since Petro took office in August on promises to fully restart trade, with cargo transport now allowed at border crossings between the Colombian city of Cucuta and the Venezuelan state of Tachira.

"President Gustavo Petro will travel to the city of Caracas with his team to have lunch with the Venezuelan president," Petro's office said in a statement about the meeting - the leaders' first since the thaw in relations.

They will discuss bilateral relations, reopening the border and reintegrating Venezuela into the inter-American human rights systems, said the statement.

The meeting is part of efforts to boost regional economies and protect the Amazon, the statement added.

Venezuela is a guarantor country at Colombia's talks with the National Liberation Army (ELN) rebels, which will resume in November. Advocacy group Human Rights Watch has said Colombia could use the renewed relationship to help curb human rights violations in its neighbor.

Caracas broke off relations with Bogota in 2019 after Venezuelan opposition activists tried to send aid trucks from Colombia. Maduro's government said it was a front for an attempted coup.

Previous governments in Bogota have accused Maduro of harboring Colombian rebel groups and criminals, accusations he has denied.

Bilateral trade totaled $7 billion in 2008, before Venezuela's then-president Hugo Chavez froze it to protest a Bogota-Washington military deal.

(Reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Josie Kao)