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Border incident grows tension between Colombia and Venezuela

According to independent local sources at least two Venezuelan Army officers died in clashes with Colombia's right-wing paramilitary forces. Both governments give different accounts on the issue, as similar incidents had taken place early this year.
Venezuelan troops Friday clashed with right-wing Colombian paramilitaries –with ties to the regular National Army- in the border state of Zulia, Venezuelan General Castor Perez told Colombia's Radio Caracol during the weekend. Despite General Perez denied versions, at least two Venezuelan troops died during the clashes as passengers in two allegedly stolen vehicles refused to stop on the order of the troops in Venezuela, triggering an exchange of fire.
"The people in the cars, apparently paramilitaries, fled the scene," Perez added, denying some reports that Venezuelan troops had overflown a Colombian border town during their search operation. The daily El Tiempo reported Wednesday that inhabitants of two remote northeast Colombian villages claimed some 20 Venezuelan soldiers descended on their localities days ago and terrorized locals.
Locals who spoke to the newspaper said they had not come forward to report the claimed attack sooner because of reprisal fears. They said the attack occurred December 20. Inhabitants said Venezuelan troops descended on the scene by helicopter in the rural areas of Saravena and Tibu, in the departments of Arauca and Norte de Santander, following the recent deaths of seven Venezuelan soldiers in the border area.
However, a senior Venezuelan official said his country's troups were not within Colombia's territory when died in clashes with paramilitaries. Television pictures filmed shortly after Friday's confrontation showed fuel tanks in a Colombian village on fire and houses hit by bullets.
Venezuelan ambassador in Bogota, Carlos Rodolfo Santiago, issued a strong denial that soldiers or aircraft from his country had gone into Colombia. The Venezuelans insist they acted against the paramilitaries, who are outlawed by the Colombian Government, on the Venezuelan side of the border.
As it could became known, paramilitaries were trying to introduce Venezuelan fuel in Colombia's territory. Gasoline in Venezuela is three times cheaper than in Colombia, as it is badly needed by the paramilitary force to go ahead with their operations to fight local guerrillas.
It is not the first incident of the like in the border between the two South American countries. Earlier this year, Venezuela’s president Hugo Chavez, said national Air Force retaliated a paramilitary incursion into Venezuela's territory, sparking protests from both sides.
Bogota says left-wing rebels have camps on the Venezuelan side of the border. Colombian military sources have said they believe the Venezuelans are turning a blind eye to their presence, if not actively aiding them, our correspondent adds. Caracas denies such accusations as says Colombia does not control the activity of paramilitaries that cross the border for cheap fuel and drug trafficking.
However, bordering issues is not the only question that splits both countries. Colombia's right wing administration is backed by the U.S., while Chavez has repeatedly suggested that Washington was behind April's 2002 coup and further strikes and lock outs to oust him from power.

Hernan Etchaleco,
Pravda.Ru

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