US expels two Venezuelan diplomats

The United States has expelled two Venezuelan diplomats in a tit-for-tat move after Caracas ordered two US Air Force officers out of the country, the State Department said Monday.

Embassy second secretary Orlando Jose Montanez and consular official Victor Camacaro, who worked in New York, were each declared "persona non grata" by the United States on Saturday, department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.

Both have now left the country, she added.

"When you have an incident that you consider unjust... you need to take reciprocal action and make your point clear," Nuland said.

The expulsion came just 24 hours after the funeral of late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, who died last week after losing his battle with cancer, adding a new wrinkle to the already strained relations between the two countries.

The two countries have not had ambassadors in their respective capitals since 2010 and diplomatic relations have not been normalized despite several direct contacts between the governments.

Venezuela will hold a new presidential vote on April 14, with newly sworn-in interim President Nicolas Maduro -- Chavez's handpicked successor -- the heavy favorite to win against opposition leader Henriquer Capriles.

It was Maduro who last week announced the expulsion of two US military attaches from Venezuela -- shortly before he announced Chavez's death.

Maduro accused the Americans of acting to destabilize the country, going as far as to suggest the United States was behind the cancer that killed Chavez.

The US State Department branded the allegations "absurd."

Nuland said Monday there was "work that we would like to do together, particularly in the areas of counterterrorism, counternarcotics, economics and energy relations. But it's going to take a change of tone from Caracas."