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Venezuela’s Maduro orders military exercise over British warship 'threat'

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro addresses military staff during a meeting at the Ministry of Defense, in Caracas, Venezuela, on December 28, 2023. (Photo by Reuters)

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro has ordered a "defensive" military exercise off the coast of the disputed region of Essequibo over Britain’s “provocative” deployment of a warship to neighboring Guyana.

On Thursday, Maduro said he was launching "a joint action of a defensive nature in response to the provocation and threat of the United Kingdom against peace and the sovereignty of our country."

His announcement came as Royal Navy patrol vessel HMS Trent is scheduled to arrive in Guyana, a British ally and former colony, on Friday, amid the South American country's simmering territorial dispute with neighboring Venezuela over the Essequibo region, a Guyana foreign ministry source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Maduro said the deployment of the British warship breaches the "spirit" of an agreement reached between the South American neighbors earlier this month, during a meeting between Maduro and Guyana President Irfaan Ali, to avoid the use of force and avoid increasing tensions in the dispute.

"We believe in diplomacy, in dialogue, in peace," Maduro said.

"But no one should threaten Venezuela, no one should mess with Venezuela. We are a people of peace, but we are warriors and this threat is unacceptable for any sovereign country," he added.

"The threat of the decadent, rotten, ex-empire of the United Kingdom is unacceptable."

The television broadcast accompanying Maduro's statement showed fighter jets, ships, and ocean patrol vessels participating in the Venezuelan military drill.

According to Venezuelan military leaders, 5,600 uniformed personnel were ready for the operation.

According to the Guyana foreign ministry source, the ship would be in its territory for "less than a week" for open sea military exercises.

Venezuela's Foreign Ministry said in a statement the country "reserves all actions, within the framework of the Constitution and International Law, to defend its maritime and territorial integrity."

Earlier this month, Venezuela held a referendum in which voters overwhelmingly supported their country's claim to the Essequibo region, an oil-rich area of 160,000 square kilometers.

Maduro has since begun legal maneuvers to create a Venezuelan province in Essequibo and ordered the state oil company to issue licenses for extracting crude in the region.

Caracas claims the Essequibo River to the region's east forms a natural border recognized as far back as 1777.

Essequibo is home to 125,000 of Guyana's 800,000 citizens.

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