Puebla, Mexico, March 24, 2017 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuela said Thursday a group of its soldiers had retreated from a border camp, after officials in Bogota accused the troops of straying into Colombian territory.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos confirmed the withdrawal after speaking with his Venezuelan counterpart, Nicolas Maduro.
"He has assured me he has ordered the withdrawal of troops from Colombian territory,” Santos said during a televised address.
The previous day, more than 60 soldiers pulled back from an encampment near the Arauca river, which demarcates much of the Venezuela/Colombia border.
According to Colombian media, the soldiers arrived on Sunday, and set up camp on land owned by local farmers. Santos described the alleged incursion as “totally unacceptable,” though Venezuela is yet to confirm whether the troops were on Colombian soil.
According to Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez, the troops may have technically been in Venezuelan territory. She said the misunderstanding might have been caused after recent heavy rains potentially redirected the Arauca River. The river serves as a demarcation line for much of the border, but is susceptible to flooding.
“In this particular area, the river … is constantly changing as a result of flooding. This has happened in the past,” she said.
Rodriguez also condemned “all versions [of the story] … that present a distorted view of the incident”.
The incident was first made public by Colombia’s El Tiempo newspaper, shortly before Santos announced the troops’ withdrawal.
The dispute is the latest in a series of border issues in recent years. The porous, rugged border region has long been a cause of tension between the two neighbours, and has repeatedly been closed since 2015.
Troops Clash with AGC
On Wednesday, state media in Caracas reported security forces clashed with Colombian paramilitaries in the Venezuelan border state of Tachira.
At least eight paramilitaries were killed in the six hour fire fight, while two Venezuelan soldiers were reported injured. The camp was allegedly used as a base for over 100 paramilitaries involved in extortion, and arms smuggling. Venezuelan officials stated troops recovered military grade weapons from the camp, including grenade launchers and heavy machine guns.
State media outlet AVN reported the paramilitaries had been identified as members of the right-wing extremist group, the Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia. The group is largely comprised of former members of the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia, which was responsible for the 1997 Mapiripan Massacre. The massacre left at least 30 Colombians dead, with most being dismembered or disembowelled with machetes and chainsaws.