Colombian rebel group says it captured 8 Venezuela soldiers
BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — A Colombian rebel group that has been fighting against the Venezuelan army since March, said in a letter addressed to the International Committee of the Red Cross that it has captured eight Venezuelan soldiers and is trying to find a way to hand them over to human rights groups.
The Red Cross confirmed on Tuesday that it had received the letter, but said it cannot comment further because that would compromise its humanitarian work.
In the letter – which was also published online by Fundaredes, a Venezuelan human rights organization -- the group known as the Martin Villa 10th Front said that it captured the soldiers on April 23 during a battle in Venezuela’s Apure state.
The communique lists the names of the soldiers and their ranks, which include sergeants and lieutenants, and asks the Red Cross to implement “protocols” so that the “prisoners of war” can be handed over to a commission that might also include members of the United Nations, the Venezuelan government and the rebel group.
Venezuela’s government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Venezuelan army’s army deployed tanks, fighter jets, soldiers and members of the ruling party’s militia movement to Apure in March as clashes with the rebel groups increased.
According to Venezuelan officials 16 soldiers and at least nine rebels have been killed in the military offensive. The United Nations says that fighting around the town of La Victoria forced more than 5,000 people to flee their homes. Many are now staying in shelters in the Colombian border town of Arauquita.
Colombia has long accused Venezuela’s socialist government of allowing leftist rebels to use its territory as a safe haven for attacks on Colombia, but in recent months Venezuela itself has reported clashing with such groups, which are widely accused of deep involvement in drug smuggling and illegal mining.
Colombia’s government says that the Venezuelan army and groups like the Martin Villa 10th Front are fighting over control of drug trafficking routes used to take cocaine to Europe and the United States.
The Venezuelan government says that Colombian rebel groups are “terrorists” trying to destabilize the country.
The Martin Villa Front is led by former members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia who refused to join a 2016 peace deal the larger group signed with Colombia’s government. The Martin Villa front has not said what it is doing in Venezuela. It is part of a larger structure of dissidents led by Gentil Duarte, a former FARC leader.
Colombian rebel groups have increased their operations in Venezuela recently, according to a report by the International Crisis Group think tank, exploiting illegal gold mines and drug trafficking routes and acting as de-facto law enforcement in some remote communities.
The rebel groups are present in all of Venezuela’s border states, said Bram Ebus, an investigator for the International Crisis Group.