July 26, 2019 / 1:45 AM / 4 months ago

Maduro asks Colombia's military to 'disobey' orders against Venezuela

FILE PHOTO: Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro speaks during a meeting with military high command members in Caracas, Venezuela July 24, 2019. Miraflores Palace/Handout via REUTERS

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Thursday called on Colombia’s military to “disobey orders to disrupt Venezuela’s peace,” in the latest sign of deteriorating relations between the neighbouring South American countries.

Maduro frequently calls Colombian President Ivan Duque a lackey for the United States and accuses him of conspiring to overthrow him. Duque says Maduro provides a safe haven to leftist Colombian rebel groups and has accused him of providing arms to the leadership of the National Liberation Army (ELN).

“To the armed forces of Colombia, let us unite in one sole military force in the spirit of the great fatherland to unite our peoples in peace, to reject gringo military bases in Colombia, to reject plans for military aggression against Venezuela,” Maduro said in a state television broadcast.

“To the armed forces of Colombia, who receive daily orders to conspire against Venezuela’s peace: Disobey orders to disrupt Venezuela’s peace,” he added.

Maduro, a socialist, broke off diplomatic relations with Bogota in February, after a failed U.S.-backed effort to transport humanitarian aid into Venezuela from the Colombian border.

The aid had been requested by Juan Guaido, the head of the opposition-controlled National Assembly who in January invoked the constitution to assume a rival presidency, arguing Maduro’s 2018 re-election was illegitimate. He has been recognised as the rightful leader by most Western countries, including the United States and Colombia.

In recent years, both countries have accused the other’s armed forces of cross-border incursions. Venezuelan Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino called on Colombian troops last month not to back Duque’s “interventionism” after Duque said Venezuelan troops’ support for Guaido could fracture the armed forces.

Colombia is hosting more than 1 million Venezuelan migrants who have fled their country’s humanitarian crisis, according to the United Nations.

Reporting by Luc Cohen and Deisy Buitrago; Editing by Peter Cooney

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