Venezuela says 8 soldiers killed amid fighting along Colombian border

CARACAS, April 28 (Reuters) - Venezuelan Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino said on Wednesday that eight soldiers were killed in combat amid continuing clashes between the armed forces and illegal armed groups along the border with Colombia.

In a brief post on the ministry's website, Padrino listed the names of the eight soldiers, without providing details about how they died. On Monday, Padrino said Venezuela's armed forces had suffered deaths and injuries in fighting along the border in the prior 72 hours, but did not specify how many had died.

Earlier on Wednesday, Army Commander General Domingo Hernandez wrote on Twitter that four sergeants were killed on the battlefield while fighting "in defense of the fatherland," without elaborating when, where or under what circumstances they died. Those four were also included on Padrino's list.

Venezuela's information ministry did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

Fighting began in the border areas of western Apure state in late March, prompting thousands of civilians to flee into Colombia, according to rights groups.

Authorities have not specified which groups they are battling, but opponents have long accused Maduro of harboring members of Colombian guerrilla groups including the National Liberation Army (ELN) and dissident members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) who disavowed a 2016 peace deal.

Representatives of the Catholic Church recovered the corpses of some of the dead soldiers, according to opposition activist Walter Marquez and another source who asked not to be identified. The Episcopal Conference of Venezuela did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Reporte de Vivian Sequera in Caracas and Anngy Polanco in San Cristobal, Venezuela Editing by Nick Zieminski Writing by Brian Ellsworth and Luc Cohen

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