Tensions on the border between Colombia and Venezuela continued to escalate on Thursday, amid military operations that sent thousands of Venezuelans fleeing to Colombia from their homes located along the border.
Thousands of Venezuelans have fled to Colombia from the province of Apure in the wake of continuing military operations, the Colombian government and some of those displaced said.
Venezuela has said its military is fighting Colombian armed groups in rural areas and has its population’s support.
“When the bombs were falling I felt so nervous,” said Niomar Diaz, 26, who arrived in Colombia by canoe told the Reuters news agency. “In one house, a grandfather died, an eight-year-old boy died, a nine-year-old girl and her mom. The situation was terrible.”
Diaz said the Venezuelan military was abusive and his family and several neighbours chose to flee.
More than 3,100 people in 780 families make up the group, which began arriving in the Colombian municipality of Arauquita starting on Monday because of the military operations, Colombia’s migration agency said.
The border is currently closed due to COVID-19.
“The foreigners are in eight shelters in Arauquita municipality and the national government, the governor of Arauca and the international community are making efforts to provide them with assistance,” the agency said.
#COMUNICADO | Venezuela rechaza las declaraciones de la Cancillería colombiana sobre una"supuesta preocupación" por las operaciones de la FANB en el edo Apure. Cualquier intento de violación a la integridad territorial de Venezuela tendrá una reacción contundente. pic.twitter.com/M8OhBkGKTe
— Jorge Arreaza M (@jaarreaza) March 24, 2021
Translation: Venezuela rejects the statements of the Colombian Foreign Ministry regarding an “alleged concern” about the operations of the FANB (Venezuela’s armed forces) in the state of Apure. Any attempt to violate the territorial integrity of Venezuela will have a strong reaction.
On Wednesday Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza denounced attacks by Colombia on civilian targets on the border, as well as the use of antipersonnel mines, and said his country would have a “strong reaction”.
“Venezuela will effectively guarantee peace within the national territory and ratifies that any attempt to violate territorial integrity,” Arreaza said in a statement, “whether conventional or covert, by any armed organization, be it regular or irregular, will have a strong reaction.”
The operations have been conducted against illegal camps of Colombian armed groups, according to the statement, and two Venezuelan soldiers have been killed.
Colombia’s foreign ministry on Twitter this week expressed worry about the situation and urged the international community to contribute help for the displaced.
El Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores hace un llamado a la comunidad internacional para unirse en la asistencia ante esta crisis humanitaria, en la que más de 3.100 personas han tenido que desplazarse de manera forzada para encontrar protección en Colombia.
— Cancillería Colombia (@CancilleriaCol) March 24, 2021
Translation: The Ministry of Foreign Affairs calls on the international community to join in assisting in the face of this humanitarian crisis, in which more than 3,100 people have had to be forcibly displaced to find protection in Colombia.
On Twitter on Wednesday, Colombia Defence Minister Diego Molano said the nation will increase military and police presence in the area.
Colombia’s government has vehemently criticised what it characterises as the Venezuelan government’s protection of Colombian rebels and criminal gangs. Venezuela has denied protecting such groups.
Colombia said last month it would grant 10-year protected status to some 1.7 million Venezuelans.