10 Colombian “paramilitaries” killed in clashes: Maduro


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Caracas (AFP)

Ten Colombian “paramilitaries” died in violent clashes between armed groups and security forces that devastated Caracas, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said on Monday.

Gun fights broke out for the first time on Wednesday evening, forcing people to flee their homes.

The socialist leader said at least 20 “Colombian paramilitaries” helped train armed groups that kept firing and killing unknown numbers of civilians from “stray bullets”.

“At least 20 Colombian paramilitaries, we captured three with their weapons, it seems that others were killed who are being identified,” said Maduro in front of the Miraflores presidential palace.

“I don’t know if the number they gave me is accurate, 10 dead, and others flee and we’re looking for them.”

Venezuela’s armed forces have clashed with Colombian armed groups along the border since March 21, displacing thousands of civilians who had fled to Colombia.

Venezuela does not name the armed groups it blames for the unrest, other than being called “terrorists” or associated with drug trafficking or Colombian President Ivan Duque.

Security sources in Colombia say, however, that they are likely dissidents of the now-defunct rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

Maduro said the paramilitaries had spent months training “criminals and terrorists”.

“They had trenches, they had a place called bunkers, they had paramilitary logistical preparation for a war in Caracas,” he said, adding that “between 200 and 300 criminals” were paid with drug money.

At least 26 people died on Saturday after nearly two days of clashes between Venezuelan security forces and gangs controlling poor areas of Caracas.

The number of victims is 22 suspected gang members and four dead police officers, said Interior Minister Carmen Melendez.

She said an unspecified number of non-combatants died and 28 people were injured, including 18 bystanders.

Up to 2,500 officers were deployed to conquer a barrio or slum called Cota 905. Authorities offered the gang boss who runs it a reward of $ 500,000.

Police confiscated 24,000 rounds of ammunition, three rocket launchers, five rifles, four submachine guns and several small arms.

There are enough “bullets for a year-long war,” said Maduro on Monday, without indicating whether the 10 paramilitaries were among the dead on Saturday.

He also said that part of the arms depot belonged to the Colombian National Police and the Colombian Army.

Maduro has linked the criminal gangs to an alleged plan by the Venezuelan opposition, supported by the United States and Colombia, to “destabilize” his government.

Bogota, meanwhile, has long accused Venezuela of shielding members of the FARC and the armed rebel group ELN on its territory – an accusation Maduro denies.

Some FARC militants who refused to join the peace process have continued their struggle while also mingling with and fighting drug traffickers in lawless areas of Colombia.

Venezuela and Colombia, which share a 2,200-kilometer border, severed diplomatic ties in January 2019 after Bogota recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s leader over Maduro following a controversial election.

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