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Colombia, Venezuela tensions rising as Bogota boosts troop presence on border

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Colombian soldiers patrol near the Arauca river in Arauquita municipality, Arauca department, Colombia on March 25 , 2021. (Photo by AFP)

Colombia has increased its troop presence on the joint border with Venezuela after five Colombian soldiers were killed and several others wounded in an attack.

The soldiers were killed Saturday in clashes that Bogota claimed were planned on its neighbor's soil by armed groups from Colombia's last remaining rebel group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), and dissident FARC guerrillas, who have rejected a 2016 peace deal with the government.

FARC signed a historic peace agreement with Bogota in 2016 to end half a century of armed conflict. But some fighters refused to join the peace process and have continued their struggle, while also mixing with and battling drug traffickers in lawless areas of Colombia.

Violence has recently increased in Colombia, driven by an estimated 2,500 opposition fighters from the FARC fighting over drug trafficking routes and illegal mining locations with the ELN and militant groups.

Tension between the two governments is escalating rapidly.

Colombia's President Ivan Duque has accused Venezuela of coordinating the attack with ELN guerrillas while claiming that the neighboring country offers support and refuge to Colombian illegal armed groups.

Venezuela's Defense Minister General Vladimir Padrino has denied the claims.

“I regret the loss of the Colombian soldiers who are also victims of the genocidal and treacherous policy of the Colombian oligarchy. We continue to pray for peace in Colombia,” he said in a tweet.

Venezuela's Foreign Minister Felix Plasencia has also rejected the allegations and said that Colombia has been systematically attempting against Venezuela's stability.

“We reject Ivan Duque's slanderous and false accusations without foundation. It is from Colombia, the factory of mercenaries, that the region and other latitudes are destroyed. It is in Colombia, the cradle of violence, from where its peoples are threatened,” Plasencia stressed.

Venezuela and Colombia, which share a 2,200-kilometer border, have not had diplomatic ties since 2019, when Colombia joined the United States and other countries in rejecting Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's disputed reelection in 2018, and recognizing opposition leader Juan Guaido.

Caracas's relations with Bogota and Washington have turned sour since the presidency of the late Hugo Chavez, but tensions escalated from January 2019. Maduro points the finger at Duque, saying Colombia is pushing plans to destabilize his government and force his overthrow.

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