Venezuela Says Two Soldiers Killed by Land Mine near Colombia Border

Venezuela on Thursday said two of its soldiers were killed by a land mine during operations against armed groups along the Colombian border that have forced the displacement of thousands of civilians, Reuters reports.

The explosion “left nine members of the military injured, who are now receiving medical attention …,” the defense ministry said in a statement.

During the operations troops dismantled nine camps, including one that produced coca paste, which is used to make cocaine, the ministry said. Nine suspected fighters had died and 31 people arrested, it said.

Two journalists and two human rights activists were released on Thursday afternoon after being taken to a military base and detained for 25 hours while working in the southwestern Apure state, the Venezuelan press union said on Twitter. The information ministry did not immediately reply to a request for comment on the detentions.

On March 22 Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s government said two soldiers were killed in clashes with “irregular armed groups” in Apure. The explosion “left nine members of the military injured, who are now receiving medical attention in military health network,” the defence ministry said in a statement posted on Twitter Thursday morning.

Armed forces began an operation last week, with Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez saying the country would defend itself from irregular groups, while respecting human rights.

Refugees fleeing the area last week said security forces burned homes and killed civilians. Venezuela said it was investigating accusations that members of its military committed abuses.

Dissidents of the demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), who reject a 2016 peace deal with the Colombian government, are the targets of the military operations, fleeing civilians told Reuters.

Colombian President Ivan Duque has accused the government of Venezuela of sheltering FARC dissidents and members of the National Liberation Army (ELN), a claim Caracas denies.

Rights groups from the two countries on Wednesday called on the United Nations to appoint a special envoy to address the humanitarian crisis in the border area, which has been for years a center of drug trafficking and smuggling.

The Venezuelan government launched Operation Bolivarian Shield 2021 on March 21 in an effort to root out militants from the border area. Venezuela says they are trying to control the border with a tacit approval from Bogota, who they accuse of sponsoring the armed groups.