Mexico City, Mexico, March 24, 2021 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Two members of the National Bolivarian Armed Forces were killed Sunday in a confrontation with irregular armed groups in the southwestern Venezuelan state of Apure.
A communique from Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino López reported that Venezuelan authorities captured 32 men and killed an individual known by the alias “El Nando,” described as being one of the leaders of the Colombian group. Six camps were destroyed and a multitude of weapons, ammunition, explosives, military supplies, vehicles and drugs were also seized, according to the statement, which additionally mentioned an unspecified number of injured servicemen currently being treated.
The Venezuelan soldiers, Edward Ramón Corobo Segovia and Yonathan Miguel Duarte, were killed during an exercise that formed part of the “Bolivarian Shield 2021” operation, which is aimed at defending Venezuela’s territorial sovereignty.
“Any violent, armed group that is generating anxiety, destabilization to our people and intends to occupy our territory for drug trafficking purposes will have the cohesive response from the [National Bolivarian Armed Forces]," said Padrino during a military ceremony to posthumously promote the two soldiers killed in combat.
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro backed Padrino and said the armed forces would have “zero tolerance” of irregular groups that operate in the border region.
Colombian authorities said the military operation resulted in the displacement of families in the state of Arauca, located on the border with Venezuela. In a statement, the Arauca campesino association said 600 people had been affected and criticized the actions of the Venezuelan military.
The porous border between Venezuela and Colombia has created significant tensions between the two countries in recent years, with officials on both sides regularly hurling accusations of support for armed groups.
Colombian President Iván Duque has frequently accused the Venezuelan President of harboring members of the National Liberation Army (ELN), which has been engaged in a decades-long armed conflict with the Colombian state, as well as dissidents from Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) who did not demobilize after the 2016 peace agreement. Caracas has denied the accusations and in turn accuses Bogota of turning a blind eye to the organized crime activities along the border.
Maduro has also accused Colombia of providing support to violent groups conspiring to overthrow his government, including those that participated in Operation Gedeon, a paramilitary invasion featuring US mercenaries foiled by Venezuelan security forces last year.
Francisco Barbosala, the Colombian prosecutor involved in the trial of alleged Gedeon participants, recently declared that the operation was planned in the Colombian capital.
Tensions between Bogotá and Caracas were raised before the border clash when Duque called Maduro a “killer” last week, prompting a response from Venezuela Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza. Arreaza drew comparisons of Duque’s statement to US President Joe Biden’s efforts to tag his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, as a killer and accused Duque of being in charge of “the bloodiest and most violent oligarchy” in the continent.
The diplomatic standoff continued when Colombia’s high commissioner for peace Miguel Ceballos told Reuters that Maduro is an obstacle to peace in the region over his alleged efforts to protect FARC dissidents.
“The dictatorship of Nicolas Maduro has done tremendous damage to the implementation of the (peace) agreements by sheltering criminals such as Iván Marquez and Jesús Santrich,” Ceballos said.
Justice for Colombia, a British-Irish organisation that campaigns for human rights, trade union rights and peace with social justice in Colombia, tweeted that Ceballos’ comments were an “outrageous attempt [...] to disown his own government's responsibility and shift focus to Venezuela.”
Venezuela played an integral role in peace negotiations between the FARC and the Colombian state, with former President Hugo Chavez being credited for bringing the parties to the table. However, the former guerrillas and a host of multilateral organizations have denounced the Colombian state’s failure to uphold provisions of the peace agreement. In response, many FARC combatants resumed the armed struggle, including Márquez and Santrich, who participated in peace negotiations.
Edited by Ricardo Vaz from Mérida