Venezuela on Thursday said two of its soldiers were killed by a land mine during operations to confront armed groups along the Colombian border that have forced the displacement of thousands of civilians.
The news follows a March 22 announcement by the government of President Nicolas Maduro that two soldiers were killed in clashes with “irregular armed groups” in the southwestern Apure state.
The explosion “left nine members of the military injured, who are now receiving medical attention in military health network,” the defence ministry said in a statement posted on Twitter Thursday morning.
The ministry added that during the operations, troops have dismantled nine camps, including one that produced coca paste, which is used to make cocaine. It added that it has arrested 31 people and that nine alleged fighters had died.
Venezuela’s union of press workers said two journalists and two rights activists had been detained while working in the area and have been taken to a military base in Apure.
The information ministry did not immediately reply to a request for comment on the detentions.
Venezuela’s armed forces launched an operation last week, with its Defence Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez saying the country would defend itself from irregular groups, while respecting human rights.
Refugees fleeing the area last week told Reuters that security forces burned homes and killed civilians. Venezuela said it was investigating accusations that members of its military committed abuses.
Dissidents of the demobilised Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), who reject a 2016 peace deal with the Colombian government, are the targets of the military operations, fleeing civilians told Reuters.
Colombian President Ivan Duque has accused the government of Venezuela of sheltering FARC dissidents and members of the National Liberation Army (ELN), a claim Caracas denies.
Rights groups from the two countries on Wednesday called on the United Nations to appoint a special envoy to address the humanitarian crisis in the border area, which has been for years a centre of drug trafficking and smuggling.