Venezuela's armed forces have engaged in clashes with Colombian armed groups in the western border state of Apure since March 21, displacing thousands of civilians towards Colombia.

Venezuelan refugees are seen inside a coliseum where a temporary camp has been set up, after fleeing their country due to military operations, in Arauquita, Colombia April 5, 2021.
Venezuelan refugees are seen inside a coliseum where a temporary camp has been set up, after fleeing their country due to military operations, in Arauquita, Colombia April 5, 2021. (Reuters)

Venezuela said eight of its soldiers have died since an offensive started two weeks ago against armed groups operating on the border with Colombia.

Thirty-four have been injured, Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino said in an address broadcast on state television, upping the death toll given over the weekend from six soldiers and nine "terrorists."

Padrino also said a temporary unit called an Integrated Operational Defense Zone, or ZODI, would operate in several municipalities of Apure state, where the clashes have taken place.

"We are not going to allow any type of force, be it conventional, irregular, criminal, drug trafficker, etcetera, to come to Venezuelan territory to commit crimes," Padrino said in a televised statement.

Venezuela's military maintains a standing ZODI unit for each of its 23 states and the capital, Caracas.

Venezuela's armed forces have engaged in clashes with Colombian armed groups in the western border state of Apure since March 21, displacing thousands of civilians towards Colombia.

On Sunday, President Nicolas Maduro said the groups, which he claims have links to the Colombian army and the government of his counterpart Ivan Duque, have planted anti-personnel mines on Venezuelan territory, contributing to the military casualties.

And he said Venezuela would request "immediate aid" from the United Nations to clear the mines.

Padrino said Venezuelan soldiers have deactivated 16 explosive devices near the town of La Victoria in Apure.

The operation has so far resulted in more than 30 arrests and the seizure of weapons, explosives and drugs, according to Caracas.

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Venezuela does not name the armed groups it blames for the unrest, apart from calling them "terrorists" or linking them to drug trafficking or to Duque.

Maduro has previously said they could be dissidents of the now-disbanded Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebel group.

The FARC signed a historic peace agreement with Bogota in 2016 to end half a century of armed conflict.

But some guerrilla fighters refused to join the peace process and have continued their struggle, while also mixing with and battling drug-traffickers in lawless areas of Colombia.

Colombia's Foreign Ministry on Monday urged respect for the rights of the civilian population living in Apure and the neighboring Colombian state of Arauca.

"Armed conflict in the border area of Arauca and Apure is seriously affecting the lives of the civilian population and has forced families to abandon their homes and belongings," the ministry tweeted.

"The objective of the operations there is not the protection of the border, it's the protection of the drug trafficking business," Molano told the newspaper.

Diplomatic relations between the neighboring South American nations have been nonexistent since Colombia recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela's interim president in 2019.

Bogota has also long accused Venezuela of shielding members of FARC and armed rebel group ELN on its soil, a charge Maduro denies.

READ MORE: UN: Maduro security forces committed crimes against humanity in Venezuela

Source: TRTWorld and agencies