Venezuelans fleeing to Colombia to escape clashes between the Venezuelan military and irregular armed groups have accused soldiers of abuses

Davies

People cross a river in two boats.

Venezuelans fleeing to Colombia to escape clashes between the Venezuelan military and irregular armed groups have accused soldiers of abuses, including killing civilians.

Key points:

  • Venezuela’s Defence Minister said two Venezuelan soldiers and six “terrorists” had been killed
  • The defence ministry accused Colombia and the US of supporting the foreign combatants
  • Venezuela’s chief prosecutor said the reports of abuses were under investigation

The flow of refugees, estimated at 4,000 by an official in Colombia’s Arauquita Municipality, began on Sunday after Venezuela’s National Bolivarian Armed Forces (FANB) launched an offensive against illegal armed groups in La Victoria, a Venezuelan town across the Arauca River from Arauquita.

Venezuela said it WAs investigating accusations that members of its military committed abuses, including detaining and killing civilians, as well as looting and burning homes.

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

Mr Castillo said they were forced to flee because the soldiers were “killing people”.

“They killed some neighbours and dressed them in Venezuelan army uniforms to pass them off as guerrillas,” Mr Castillo said.

The ABC could not independently verify Mr Castillo’s accusations or those of other displaced Venezuelans who showed photos on their cell phones of dead people wearing camouflage uniforms with weapons next to their hands.

Dissidents of the demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), who reject a 2016 peace deal with the Colombian government, are the targets of the military operations, according to the fleeing civilians.

But the victims were residents of La Victoria and its surroundings, they said.

Colombian navy soldiers stand guard near the Arauca River as civilians walk past.

Colombian navy soldiers stand guard near the Arauca River as civilians walk past.Colombian navy soldiers stand guard near the Arauca River, on the border with Venezuela.(AP: Fernando Vergara

)

Venezuela Defence Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez told a press conference that two Venezuelan soldiers were killed in clashes along with six irregular fighters whom he called terrorists.

A further 39 had been captured, he added in a statement.

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

The accusations levied at Venezuela’s military did not reflect its ethics, Mr Padrino said.

Venezuelan armed forces are obliged to defend the country from irregular groups, he said, adding human rights would be respected and the events would be investigated.

In a separate statement, Venezuela’s defence ministry accused the Colombian government and the US Central Intelligence Agency of supporting the foreign combatants.

Colombia’s government and the CIA were not immediately available to comment.

Venezuela’s chief prosecutor Tarek Saab wrote in a series of Twitter messages that Venezuela is investigating events in La Victoria, to see if rights were violated.

Colombian President Ivan Duque has accused the government of his Venezuelan counterpart Nicolas Maduro of sheltering FARC dissidents and members of the National Liberation Army (ELN), something the government in Caracas denies.

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