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Venezuela - Colombia: A wild frontier

From El Universal

- According to local Colombian authorities and inhabitants, Venezuelan officers broke into Colombian territory chasing a vehicle stolen in Venezuelan territory. They were attacked by Colombian paramilitary, which resulted in a clash that forced villagers to run away from the place.

- Venezuela rejected claims that its National Armed Force has conducted operations in Colombian territory, saying such accusations are a mere "media maneuver" from Colombian rebel armed groups, said Venezuelan Ambassador to Colombia, Carlos Santiago. Santiago formally accused Colombian paramilitary groups of violating the Venezuelan territorial sovereignty and killing seven National Guard troops. "Whenever a meeting between the two presidents (Hugo Chávez and Alvaro Uribe) is scheduled or drugs are seized, the Colombian rebels invent this kind of stories. They use civilian people to back their story and create media scandals," Santiago explained. He was referring to the recent seizure of 4,000 tons of cocaine from Colombia in Venezuela.

- Colombian President Alvaro Uribe said that there is no need "to make a storm" out of the alleged raid, in an effort to calm down the tension caused by declarations of officials from Bogotá and Caracas. Uribe ensured that his administration would deal with the incident "prudently." He also admitted that authorities from both countries fail to be present in the area. The recent clashes at Venezuela-Colombia border require a top level agreement between both countries intended to improve security and fight against rebel armed groups, said Uribe. Colombia and Venezuela share a 1.378-mile border, said Uribe, adding that "I have insisted that it is necessary to coordinate the efforts of the government bodies, but it has not been possible."

- Enrique Gómez Hurtado, president of the Colombian Senate's Foreign Affairs Committee, blamed Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez for giving steps that damaged the trade and political relations between both countries. "He (Chávez) turned most of the border into a distension area where (Colombian) guerrillas committing crimes here can have a shelter. When you tolerate this kind of violence, you end up suffering it in your own territory," Gómez added.

- Meanwhile, President Chavez said that evidence in an investigation on recent attacks to Venezuelan military posts in the border area with Colombia points to members of Colombia's outlawed right-wing militias. According to Chávez, Colombian paramilitary groups were behind the killings of four National Guard soldiers. Chavez also said that Colombian officers were behind the killing of a top member of Venezuela's intelligence police.

- Roy Chaderton-Matos, Venezuelan Minister of Foreign Affairs, said that besides dealing with border incidents prudently, as President Uribe has suggested, the cooperation of Colombia's government is needed to reinforce the presence of authorities in the frontier area. Asked about Uribe's declaration, the Venezuelan minister said: "Prudence is what we have had in the last 50 years of Colombian violence overflowing to our territory." "Each time that there is any incident (on the border) some sectors linked to the Colombian far-right counterattack with accusations in order to deviate the attention," Chaderton said.

- The Venezuelan government announced the creation of a new regulation aimed at improving frontier security and avoiding attacks. ''We are evaluating what is happening in the border area. We are not going to suspend guarantees in the zone but to enforce measures for an increased security'', Brid. Gen. Melvin López, secretary of the National Defense Council (CDN), said. López explained that one of the objectives of the new regulation is to combat the smuggling of fuel from Venezuela to Colombia, an activity that in his opinion caused the recent death of Venezuelan frontier guards.

- Military officials and a representative for the Attorney General's Office inspected a small village in Colombia, San Luis Beltrán. Several farmers said groups of soldiers belonging to the Venezuelan National Guard went to the village on December 25 and 27 searching arms, burned three houses and forced several families to displace, general Germán Galvis, commander of the Fifth Brigade of the Army, reported.

- That was the second denouncement in a week. On 30 December, the inhabitants of Montelara, in the Colombian department of La Guajira, denounced another incidence of trespassing by the Venezuelan military. On that occasion, soldiers were apparently pursuing gasoline traffickers.

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