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Chavez frustrates coup plotted by Colombian paramilitaries

The Venezuelan Army arrested 88 mercenaries that crossed the border between Venezuela and Colombia.
Venezuelan government says that the opposition recruited the mercenaries to oust the country authorities.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez confirmed last weekend that his security forces arrested a group of Colombian paramilitaries. The mercenaries, dressed in Venezuelan Army uniforms, were captured on the ranch owned by a Cuban far-right exiled activist in the outskirts of Caracas.
Opposition leaders (the main one is the governor of the area where the paramilitaries were arrested) dismissed charges as an attempt to smear them and divert the attention from the discussions of a recall referendum on his mandate. Chavez, in turn, said that his government had “delivered a body blow to the coup-plotters and the terrorists," in a TV broadcast speech that seemed to herald an imminent crackdown against opponents he often accuses of trying to topple him.

At first, only one pistol and communications equipment were found, security officials said. They said the group would have received more arms next week to carry out an attack against a military installation in Caracas. State television showed armed police guarding groups of subdued young prisoners, dressed in brand-new mottled green camouflage uniforms.

Citing information provided by the intelligence services, Chavez said the group was recruited, trained and directed by domestic political opponents seeking to oust him. "Now they are importing terrorists," Chavez added, saying he was sure they were planning to assassinate him. The leftist leader also added that the Venezuelan leaders of the group included dissident military officers opposed to him who staged a public revolt in an east Caracas square in October 2002. They would be investigated and brought to justice, he added.

On Monday, Colombian ultra-conservative president Alvaro Uribe praised Chavez for the capture of the paramilitaries. “The Venezuelan government does well in capturing anyone who is committing crimes in that country,'' said Uribe, according to a statement on the Web site of the presidency in Bogotб. “We need the governments of neighboring countries to help us capture criminals from Colombia, either guerrillas or paramilitaries that operate there.''

Uribe’s statement came shortly after his administration abruptly ended talks with paramilitary groups as their leader vanished in country’s rainforests. However, the statement can be read as a way to put pressure over Chavez to arrest Marxist rebels operating in the border between both countries. Colombia says Chavez aids them.

Hernan Etchaleco

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