Venezuela: Rebel attack not launched here
Posted: Friday, March 22, 2002
CARACAS, Venezuela -- Venezuela on Friday angrily rejected a Colombian army report that leftist rebels had launched an attack from its territory, but it increased border patrols and said any Colombian guerrillas found would be driven out.
Colombia's armed forces said on Thursday 21 rebels and 17 troops were killed in heavy clashes this week near the northern border village of Tibu, after a rebel column crossed over the frontier from neighboring Venezuela,
"That's completely false," Venezuelan Defense Minister Jose Vicente Rangel told reporters in Caracas.
Rangel and a senior army commander, Gen. Wilfrido Cruz Weffer, said Venezuelan troops had launched an intense air and land sweep of the area on its western frontier around Tibu but had found no trace of Colombian guerrillas.
"As far as I'm concerned, the situation on the frontier is quiet. ... Up to now, we haven't found any kind of guerrillas or insurgents," Cruz Weffer told Venezuelan television.
The government publicly denied the report. But farmers and ranchers along the frontier say they are often the victims of robberies, kidnappings and extortion carried out by Colombian rebels or by local criminals posing as guerrillas.
Venezuela's National Guard said on Thursday it had captured a Colombian national suspected of extortion and collaborating with left-wing guerrillas in the neighboring Andean country.
Chavez has also admitted his government has held "humanitarian" talks with the Colombian guerrillas to obtain the release of Venezuelan and foreign kidnap victims. MORE CNN