By Jorge Jraissati
CARACAS, Venezuela (AA) – Eight Venezuelan soldiers have died during operations along the border against a Colombian criminal group, Venezuela’s Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez confirmed Monday
Padrino Lopez also noted that the criminal group has lost nine of its members since the heavy clashes began on March 21 in an area bordering Venezuela’s Apure state.
“Until now, there have been nine casualties from this terrorist group, and unfortunately, we have suffered the loss of eight comrades from the Bolivarian National Armed Forces (FANB),” he said.
The clashes began after the Venezuelan army launched Operation Bolivar Shield. According to Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro, the operation’s mission is to protect Venezuela’s border from “Colombia's abandonment,” which has led to armed groups occupying the area illegally for drug trafficking purposes.
Since the operation began, the heavy clashes have resulted in over 5,000 Venezuelans leaving Apure out of fear and crossing the border to Colombia, a situation that has been described by the Colombian government as a “humanitarian crisis.”
Besides the eight Venezuelan soldiers who died in combat, Padrino Lopez said 34 soldiers have “received medical assistance in the military health network,” of which 21 have been “discharged with all their treatment."
He also said that Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza is seeking UN mediation to establish communication channels with the Colombian government of President Ivan Duque.
Padrino Lopez argues that the Colombian government is not doing anything to resolve the crisis, which is the reason the UN has to intervene.
“On that side, there is zero, only absences. There is nothing. There is absolutely nothing. I heard from the Colombian press that they were activating 7,000 soldiers in that sector…We are still waiting to see them,” he added.
On previous occasions, the Colombian government has denied such allegations, similarly accusing the Venezuelan government of sheltering dissidents of the FARC and ELN guerrilla groups.