Total of 130 Detained in Venezuela Paramilitary Plot

130 individuals have been detained so far in the case of a group of Colombian paramilitaries captured near Caracas last week. Absence from opposition lawmakers delayed start of investigation

Caracas, Venezuela. May 23 ( According to Venezuelan Vice-president Jose Vicente Rangel, a total of 130 individuals have been detained after a group of 70 Colombian paramilitary fighters were initially captured at a farm outside Caracas last week. Several dozens have been presented before military judges, including 13 men captured last Thursday.

The paramilitary group was concentrated at farm in the outskirts of Caracas belonging to opposition activist Robert Alonso. According to testimonies by some of the detainees, the paramilitary group was training in preparation for attacks on Venezuelan military bases and for a coup d’etat against the government of President Hugo Chavez.

While oppositionist Robert Alonso is being actively sought by authorities, retired Army General Uson Ramirez was detained yesterday morning. Ramirez is thought to have provided help to the paramilitary group. The general was part of a group of high ranking officers who rebelled against the Chavez government during the coup d’etat of April 2002. Seven military officers have been detained in connection with the paramilitaries.

Paramilitaries may be treated as terrorists

Venezuela’s National Assembly announced last Thursday that it will determine if the Colombian paramilitaries should be treated as terrorists.

According to National Assembly Deputy Nestor Leon Heredia, who heads a special commission to investigate the paramilitary incursion, the Assembly will determine “what kind of intruders or invader we have in the country”.

Even though Venezuela has signed all international anti-terrorism treaties, no anti-terror law exists in the country. A draft for a local Anti-terrorism Law was introduced last year by the Executive for discussion and approval at the National Assembly. Lawmakers from political parties that support the government have accused the opposition of blocking the discussion as several opposition activists have been charged with crimes that might be classified as terrorism, including the bombing of the Colombian Consulate and Spanish Embassy offices in Caracas last year.

Deputy Leon said he will do its best so that the commission can carry out a through investigation. He called for caution and said the proceedings must be done “according to the Constitution so that due process and Human Rights are respected.”

Heredia, who also heads the Defense Commission at the National Assembly, said that both government and private sector individuals will be called to testify at the hearings, as well as some of the Colombian paramilitaries themselves. “If we have to travel to Colombia, we will do it,” said Heredia.

No quorum

The National Assembly special commission was to set to be installed last Thursday, but the meeting had to be suspended because opposition lawmakers did not attend.

Due to the lack of quorum on Thursday, the head of the special commission at the National Assembly will call for another meeting on Monday.

Treatment for adolescents

With regard to the treatment for 9 of the captured Colombians who are minors, National Assembly Deputy Luis Tascón, said that they are not exempt from committing crimes, but that the punishment is different from that of adults.

“Those Colombian adolescents were organizing to commit crimes, so they must be held responsible for that in Venezuela, as well as the persons who accompanied them, whether they are naturalized or native Venezuelans,” said the lawmaker.

Tascon’s statements contradict those made by President Chavez last week with regard to returning the minors to their families in Colombia. Tascon is a member of President Chavez’s MVR party.

Colombian authorities, Venezuela’s Council of Adolescent’s and Children’s Rights (CNDNA), and UNICEF have been offered access to the minors by authorities.