Mexico City, Mexico, June 2, 2021 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Eight Venezuelan soldiers that were held by “irregular armed Colombian groups” were freed, Venezuelan Minister of Defense Vladirmir Padrino said in a statement Monday.
After being freed, the eight soldiers were welcomed personally by Padrino at a military base in the state of Táchira, reported teleSUR correspondent Madelein García.
The soldiers were believed to have been held by Colombia’s Martín Villa Tenth Front. The group is run by Gentil Duarte and reportedly comprises around 1,500 guerrillas, previously belonged to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) but rejected the demobilization carried out as part of the 2016 Peace Agreement.
The soldiers were captured during combat operations on the Colombo-Venezuelan border in early May but their detention was only confirmed by Caracas a few weeks later after establishing communication channels and taking steps to secure their release.
The Venezuelan government reportedly enlisted the help of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to coordinate the liberation of eight soldiers. Padrino’s statement did not specify if the ICRC played a role in their release.
The freed soldiers were named in unofficial reports as follows: Lieutenant Colonel Jean Carlos Beomontt; First Lieutenant Johnny Yaguare; the frigate lieutenants Álvaro Flores, José Emilio Torres and Luis Cova; Major Sergeants José Antonio Ramos and Paul Hernández and Second Sergeant Estiben Aular.
Padrino added that a further two soldiers were still unaccounted for and efforts were still underway to secure their return.
Javier Tarazona, director of rightwing human rights organization FundaREDES, claimed the servicemen’s release was a result of a “truce” between the Venezuelan government and Duarte’s Tenth Front and accused the Venezuelan military of “abandoning” the border region in the state of Apure.
Echoing the Colombian government’s position, FundaREDES has repeatedly pointed the finger at Caracas for allowing Colombian guerrilla organizations to operate inside Venezuelan territory and of protecting the leadership of the FARC that resumed the armed struggle.
The NGO 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. FundaREDES had previously accused the Nicolás Maduro government of covering up the real number of casualties in the ongoing conflict at the border, describing the Armed Forces’ press releases as “pamphleteering.”
For his part, Padrino blasted efforts to “politicize” the violence in the border region in his statement.
The armed forces chief added that on the orders of President Maduro, the Venezuelan Armed Forces would continue “combating criminal organizations that intend to use the sacred national territory to carry out transnational crimes that affect the peace, development and stability of the country.”
The fortified presence of Venezuelan troops near the Colombo-Venezuelan border comes as the result of the Bolivarian Shield 2021 military operation ordered by Maduro called to defend Venezuela’s territorial sovereignty.
The porous 2219-kilometer border between Venezuela and Colombia has created significant tensions between the two countries in recent years and the development of cross-border criminal operations including drug and fuel smuggling.
Edited by Ricardo Vaz from Mérida.