December 22, 2019 / 9:38 PM / a month ago

Southern Venezuela military facility raided, one soldier dead: officials

CARACAS (Reuters) - Assailants raided a military facility in southern Venezuela early on Sunday morning, stealing weapons and killing one soldier, authorities said.

Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino said police and the military had recovered all the stolen weapons and detained some suspects. He blamed the attack on “extremist sectors of the opposition,” without naming any individuals.

Venezuela, whose economy has collapsed under socialist President Nicolas Maduro, is in the midst of a deep political crisis. In January, opposition-held National Assembly president Juan Guaido invoked the constitution to assume a rival presidency and encouraged the military to side with him.

Guaido argues that Maduro is illegitimate because his 2018 re-election was a farce. A spokesman for Guaido had no immediate comment on Sunday’s attack. Maduro dismisses Guaido as a U.S. puppet seeking to oust him in a coup, and has retained control of the territory and the military.

Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez said six people had been arrested in connection with the attack in southern Bolivar state, near the border with Brazil. He added that the raiders had been trained at “paramilitary camps in Colombia” and had received assistance from Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza described the group as “mercenaries” based in Peru, describing the attack as part of a regional strategy to destabilize the country. Neither Rodriguez nor Arreaza provided evidence for their statements.

Peruvian Foreign Minister Gustavo Meza-Cuadra said in a tweet that he rejected Arreaza’s “false statements” and that Peru remained committed to finding a “peaceful solution” to Venezuela’s crisis.

A spokesman for Bolsonaro declined to comment. Colombia’s foreign ministry had no immediate comment. All three countries have recognized Guaido as the country’s rightful leader, along with the United States and most Western democracies.

Remote, vast Bolivar state has been the site of violent confrontations between government forces and informal miners in recent years.

In February, during a Guaido-led attempt to bring humanitarian aid in through the border, there were deadly confrontations between troops and indigenous people in the state.

Reporting by Luc Cohen and Deisy Buitrago in Caracas, and Maria Ramirez in Puerto Ordaz; Additional reporting by Anthony Boadle in Brasilia, Oliver Griffin in Bogota and Marco Aquino in Lima; Editing by Sandra Maler

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