June 29, 2019 / 9:46 PM / 21 days ago

Venezuela deports 59 Colombians arrested 'arbitrarily' three years ago: U.N.

A Colombian citizen who is being deported back to Colombia, after having been detained in Venezuela with a group of people almost three years ago on allegations they were paramilitaries, reacts after boarding a bus at the Simon Bolivar International Bridge, on the outskirts of Cucuta, Colombia June 29, 2019. REUTERS/Ferley Ospina

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela’s government on Saturday deported 59 Colombian citizens who had been “arbitrarily” detained there almost three years ago, the United Nations human rights office said, applauding it as a “positive sign.”

Colombia’s foreign ministry had requested last year that the United Nations intervene to negotiate the release of those arrested in September 2016, on allegations they were paramilitaries, from Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s government.

The foreign ministry had said Venezuelan authorities were keeping them in poor conditions and had not followed correct legal process. Venezuela’s government had no immediate comment on their release.

Colombian President Ivan Duque’s adviser on human rights, Francisco Barbosa, wrote on Twitter on Saturday that he was in the Colombian city of Cucuta, by the Venezuelan border, leading a delegation to receive the “59 citizens arbitrarily detained by the dictatorship of Nicolas Maduro.”

The U.N. human rights office wrote on Twitter that “we applaud their release.”

“It is a positive sign that the government is complying with the human rights commitments that it made during (U.N. human rights chief) Michelle Bachelet’s recent visit. We expect more releases in the coming days,” the office said.

Bachelet traveled to Caracas last week for a three-day visit to meet with Maduro and opposition leader Juan Guaido, as well as activists and victims of human rights violations.

Maduro’s administration cut off diplomatic relations with Colombia in February after Duque’s government assisted Guaido’s efforts to bring humanitarian aid into Venezuela

Colombia recognizes Guaido as Venezuela’s legitimate head of state, along with dozens of other countries, while Maduro accuses Guaido of trying to illegally force him from power.

Reporting by Angus Berwick; editing by Jonathan Oatis

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