Venezuela says six members of ‘armed groups’ killed near Colombia

Thousands are displaced after Venezuela military launched operation against ‘armed groups’ near Colombian border.

Displaced Venezuelans from La Victoria, Apure state, take refuge in Arauquita, Colombia, on March 26, 2021 [Vanessa Jimenez/AFP]

Venezuela’s defence ministry has said six fighters belonging to “irregular Colombian armed groups” have been killed in a military operation near the Venezuela-Colombia border, which has displaced thousands of civilians since last Sunday.

In a statement on Saturday, the department said 39 additional fighters were taken into custody as part of the Venezuelan army’s operation against armed groups in Apure state, in the country’s southwest.

Venezuelan Defence Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez earlier this week said two Venezuelan soldiers had been killed in the clashes.

An official from Colombia’s Arauquita municipality told the Reuters news agency that about 4,000 people have been displaced since the operation began in La Victoria, a Venezuelan town across the Arauca River from Arauquita.

“We must expel any group of any ideology, of any foreign nationality,” Padrino said on Saturday. “We are obliged to expel them, whatever they are called.”

Venezuelans board boats to cross the Arauca River from La Victoria, Apure state, to Colombia, on March 26 [Daniel Martinez/AFP]

The defence ministry’s statement said that “weapons, grenades, ammunition, explosives, uniforms, vehicles, drugs and technological equipment containing information on their activities” had also been seized.

Displaced Venezuelans have accused members of the country’s military of committing abuses, including detaining and killing civilians, as well as looting and burning homes. Venezuela said it is investigating those allegations.

“They raided our house and took everything from us,” Jose Castillo, who arrived in Colombia with his pregnant wife and 12-year-old daughter on Friday, told Reuters.

“When they arrived they broke everything, the doors; they entered and took everything I had in the house, the workshop.”

Al Jazeera has not been able to independently verify those claims.

A Venezuelan woman rests in a temporary camp in Arauquita, Colombia, after fleeing her country due to military operations [File: Luisa Gonzalez/Reuters]

Niomar Diaz, 26, who arrived in Colombia by canoe, told Reuters last week that he felt “so nervous” when the bombs were falling.

“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.

Colombia’s foreign ministry on Wednesday called on the international community to help respond to what it said was a “humanitarian crisis”.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies