Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro vows to extend Colombian border crackdown
Published 25/08/2015 | 15:48
Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro has vowed to extend a crackdown on illegal migrants from neighbouring Colombia.
Tensions between the South American countries reached their highest level in years after Venezuela closed a major border crossing last week and declared a state of emergency in several western cities.
The action was triggered by the shooting of three army officers by gunmen Mr Maduro said belonged to paramilitary gangs linked to former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe. This led to a mass deportation drive against some 1,000 Colombians living illegally in Venezuela.
Mr Maduro said the normally busy Simon Bolivar international bridge would remain closed and restrictions may be extended to other transit crossings until Colombian authorities do their part to bring order to the 1,400-mile border.
Authorities announced the capture near the border of a 27-year-old Venezuelan who they said is connected to the attacks on the army officers.
"Venezuela won't tolerate this any more," said Mr Maduro, who called Mr Uribe a "nefarious paramilitary boss" and "assassin".
Mr Uribe has repeatedly denied links to paramilitaries or killings in Venezuela, saying such allegations are attempts to distract attention from the country's economic crisis.
Authorities across the border are struggling to help the Colombians driven from their homes in Venezuela.
The number deported in recent days is now more than half the 1,772 people expelled last year from Venezuela, according to Colombian statistics, and has overwhelmed a government-built shelter in the border city of Cucuta designed to provide assistance to returning nationals.
Colombian foreign minister Maria Angela Holguin oversaw humanitarian efforts in Cucuta on Monday amid reports from deportees that families had been broken up and videos circulated on social media showing homes being bulldozed.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has said the border closure hurts communities on both sides and vowed to stand up for the rights of Colombians.
As part of the state of emergency declared in six western cities, Mr Maduro deployed some 1,500 extra troops to Tachira state to search door-to-door for paramilitaries he blames for shooting the army officers while they were patrolling for smugglers.
Authorities have ordered a 60-day suspension of constitutional rights to protest, carry weapons and move freely, although officials maintain they are using the extraordinary powers cautiously so as not to disrupt daily life.