Defence Minister Diego Molano calls possible deployment of Venezuela's troops "foreign interference." Caracas scoffs at Molano's claim.
Venezuela is moving troops to the border with Colombia with technical assistance from Russia and Iran, Colombia's Defence Minister Diego Molano has said, calling the possible deployment "foreign interference."
Molano, citing intelligence sources on Thursday, said troop movements were registered in Venezuela opposite Colombia's Arauca province, the scene of fierce fighting between guerrillas of the National Liberation Army (ELN) and FARC dissidents for control of the drugs trade.
"We know that men and units of the FANB have been mobilised towards the border with technical assistance from Russia ... and Iran," Molano said at an anti-drugs conference in Colombia's Caribbean city of Cartagena.
FANB is the Spanish acronym of Venezuela's National Bolivarian Armed Forces.
Venezuela's Defence Minister Vladimir Padrino scoffed at Molano's comments on Twitter.
"Colombia, the country which Bogota's oligarchy has converted into an appendix of the (United States) South Command in our America, into a location of US military bases (...) denounces interference in Venezuela...my God!," Padrino tweeted.
Colombia, país que la oligarquía bogotana ha convertido en el apéndice del Comando Sur en nuestra América, en sede de las bases militares de EE.UU., en objeto del adocenado “Plan Colombia”, en la socia global de la OTAN, denuncia injerencia en Venezuela… ¡Dios mío! pic.twitter.com/Cdcxpk01xz— Vladimir Padrino L. (@vladimirpadrino) February 3, 2022
Drug trafficking and illicit economies
Colombia's human rights ombudsman has reported that clashes between the illegal armed groups in Arauca left 66 dead and 1,200 displaced people in January alone.
Fighting between the groups over control of drug trafficking and other illicit economies began in Venezuela's Apure state, and spread to Colombia, Molano said.
The ELN has teamed up with the Segunda Marquetalia, a faction of the demobilised Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) who reject a 2016 peace deal with the government, to fight another FARC dissident group, he added.
The violence in Arauca, a key area for oil production and cattle rearing, continues despite orders from Colombia's President Ivan Duque in early January for more troops to be deployed there to take control of the territory and end the bloodshed.
The Colombian government accuses Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro of sheltering both FARC dissidents and the ELN, something he has repeatedly denied.
Last year Maduro said his government would combat all manner of illegal armed groups originating from Colombia in Venezuelan territory during 2022.