Venezuela military has killed 9 members of armed groups -minister

Venezuela's Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez addresses the media at Miraflores Palace, in Caracas, Venezuela April 5, 2021. REUTERS/Manaure Quintero/File Photo

CARACAS, Feb 11 (Reuters) - Military operations on the border with Colombia have killed at least nine people belonging to illegal armed groups, while eight civilians died after explosive devices left by the same groups detonated, Venezuelan Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino said on Friday.

At least 13 members of the armed groups, which come from Colombia, have been detained, Padrino added during a press conference. He did not give details about the civilian victims but confirmed they were Venezuelan.

Padrino's statement was the first official report regarding military operations in Venezuela's Apure state this year, which sits on the border with Colombia. Non-governmental organizations have raised the alarm over bloody clashes and targeted killings by Colombian leftist guerrillas the National Liberation Army (ELN) and FARC dissidents.

The military action also destroyed 16 camps belonging to the armed groups and seized 1,200 kilos of cocaine and 800 kilos of marijuana, Padrino said, adding that the groups are fighting for control of routes for exporting drugs via Venezuela.

"All the operations we have been carrying out have been focused on Apure ...(because of) a greater mobilization of these criminal groups," Padrino said.

Venezuela has reported clashes with groups in the region since last March, which the government of President Nicolas Maduro links to paramilitaries.

Authorities in Bogota say the groups include the ELN and dissidents of the demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) who reject a 2016 peace deal with the Colombian government, while accusing the government in Caracas of sheltering them, something Maduro has repeatedly denied.

The two countries share a porous border stretching 2,200 kilometers, which plays host to criminal activity including smuggling and drug trafficking.

Reporting by Vivian Sequera and Deisy Buitrago Writing by Oliver Griffin Editing by Leslie Adler

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