Red Cross to Mediate Release of Captured Venezuelan Soldiers on Colombian Border

Caracas has confirmed that eight soldiers are being held by “irregular Colombian armed groups.”

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The Red Cross has been tending to those injured as part of the on-going confrontation between an “irregular armed Colombian group” and the Venezuelan Armed Forces, here pictured in Colombia. (Margareth Figueroa / ICRC)
The Red Cross has been tending to those injured as part of the on-going confrontation between an “irregular armed Colombian group” and the Venezuelan Armed Forces, here pictured in Colombia. (Margareth Figueroa / ICRC)
By Paul Dobson
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Mérida, May 17, 2021 (venezuelanalysis.com) – The Venezuelan government is reportedly liaising with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to coordinate the liberation of eight soldiers held by “irregular armed Colombian groups.”

While on-the-ground sources revealed that the soldiers were captured on the Colombo-Venezuelan border some two weeks ago, it was only confirmed by Caracas on Saturday after establishing communication channels and taking steps to secure their release.

“We denounce this dreadful kidnapping before the international community as well as multilateral and human rights organizations,” Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino López told press over the weekend, promising to “not waste any efforts” and “explore all possible options” to guarantee the servicemen’s “safe and sound release.”

While the military chief did not disclose names, current whereabouts and dates of capture, he did confirm having received proof of life of the soldiers on May 9.

Padrino López also revealed that the armed forces have opened up communication channels with the captors, who have reportedly agreed to hand the soldiers over to the ICRC.

Equally on Saturday, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza, who is acting as a go-between for the Red Cross and the Armed Forces, informed that a “series of necessary conditions for a safe and quick release of our brave soldiers” are being put in place.

The soldiers’ capture comes as part of continuing confrontations on the porous border, with Caracas pointing the finger at “irregular Colombian armed groups” operating close to La Victoria, Apure state, as well as the Bogotá government and Washington’s CIA and Southern Command. On Saturday, Padrino López referred to the captors as a “terrorist group dedicated to drug running, kidnapping and extortion which has declared war on the Venezuelan state.”

Other organizations operating in the area, including a local mayor, have claimed that Colombia’s Martín Villa Tenth Front is responsible for the soldiers’ capture. The Tenth Front, which is run by Gentil Duarte and reportedly comprises around 1500 guerrillas, previously belonged to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) but rejected the demobilization carried out as part of the 2016 Peace Agreement, striking an independent course.

According to rightwing human rights organization FundaREDES, the Tenth Front claimed it is holding the Venezuelan servicemen through an undisclosed letter sent to the ICRC.

FundaREDES likewise claims that the soldiers were captured on April 23 following a military operation which left at least 12 Venezuelan soldiers dead and three more injured. On its Twitter account, the organization has published the names of nine of the eleven soldiers allegedly missing in action from this confrontation, also stating on Sunday that “the first releases will be carried out in the next 48 hours after an agreement was reached between the FARC and the ICRC.”

The organization has strongly criticized the government’s handling of the border situation, claiming that soldiers are being sent into conflict scenarios without adequate equipment or food. It goes on to accuse Caracas of covering up the real number of casualties, describing the Armed Forces’ press releases as “pamphleteering.”

The skirmishes in Apure state initiated on March 21 and, according to official figures, have claimed the lives of at least fourteenVenezuelan soldiers and nine Colombians combatants. Many more have been injured, and over 40 arrests have been declared. Thousands of local residents have fled the region, with a refugee camp set up in the Colombian border town of Arauquita.

Both sides have been accused of human rights abuses, with Caracas calling on the United Nations to assist in deactivating landmines reportedly found in the sector.

In April, the Venezuelan government declared a special military operations unit and created the Negro Primero Special 94th Brigade to lead its “safekeeping” efforts in the zone. It has more recently sent an undisclosed number of civilian militiamen and women to the region.