September 3, 2019 / 7:31 PM / 2 months ago

Venezuela's Maduro warns of Colombia attack, orders military exercises

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Tuesday ordered the armed forces to be on alert for a potential attack by Colombia’s government and announced military exercises on the border amid the rearmament of a group of former guerrilla commanders.

FILE PHOTO: Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro speaks at a meeting of the Sao Paulo Forum in Caracas, Venezuela, July 28, 2019. REUTERS/Manaure Quintero/File Photo

Former FARC guerillas on Thursday announced a rearmament in a video that Colombian authorities believe was filmed in Venezuela, spurring concern of a worsening of the Colombian armed conflict and expansion of armed groups in Venezuela.

“I’ve ordered the strategic operations commander of the Bolivarian Armed Forces and all the military units on the border to declare an alert ... in the face of the threatened aggression by Colombia towards Venezuela,” Maduro said in a televised broadcast.

A set of military exercises that are carried out each year will be held between Sept. 10 and Sept. 29 in the states of Zulia, Tachira, Apure and Amazonas, which border Colombia, Maduro said. They are the third such exercises this year.

Despite the dramatic rhetoric, the statements are consistent with frequent disputes between the two nations for over a decade that at times included troop movements for political effect. Previous spats have ended in grudging reconciliation.

Colombia’s Foreign Ministry declined to comment. Colombian authorities have repeatedly denied planning to attack Venezuela.

The United States, which has launched a broad set of sanctions against Maduro’s government in efforts to hasten his departure, says Venezuela’s government provides a safe haven to Colombian armed groups.

Earlier, Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido backed the use of satellites to help locate guerrilla groups that have crossed into Venezuela.

“We are going to authorise the use of satellite technology to facilitate the location of these irregular groups, of camps within the country’s borders,” Guaido said in a televised presentation.

“We are going to collaborate with the Colombian government on intelligence activities.”

Venezuela’s Information Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Guaido in January invoked the constitution to assume an interim presidency after declaring Maduro’s 2018 re-election a farce. He has been recognised by more than 50 countries, including the United States and Colombia, as Venezuela’s legitimate president, but does not control state institutions.

Colombian President Ivan Duque has promised to persecute the rebel group, whose leaders said they were returning to armed struggle because Duque had betrayed the 2016 peace accord that lead to the FARC’s demobilization.

Reporting by Corina Pons and Vivian Sequera; additional reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb; writing by Brian Ellsworth; editing by Richard Chang and Leslie Adler

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