BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — Venezuelan soldiers conducted joint operations with Colombian rebels in the state of Apure earlier this year, Human Rights Watch said as violence increased along a remote and often lawless stretch of the Colombia-Venezuela border. Several armed groups are fighting for control of drug trafficking routes in the area.
The report published on Monday by Human Rights Watch says that in January a truce ended between the National Liberation Army, or ELN, and another rebel organization known as the Joint Eastern Command, leading to clashes, abductions and assassinations of civilians that forced more than 3,300 people to flee their homes in the Venezuelan state of Apure. In the Colombian province of Arauca, more than 3,800 people were displaced.
Human Rights Watch says that it visited Arauca in February and spoke to humanitarian workers and refugees from Apure, who said that they witnessed how member of Venezuela’s National Guard entered villages with the ELN rebels and took people away in trucks. Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that those who were snatched from their homes were accused of collaborating with the Joint Eastern Command.
In February, Colombia’s defense minister said that the Venezuela’s army had formed an alliance with the ELN to remove the Joint Eastern Command from the area, because they were “stealing drug routes from them.”
Venezuela’s government denied accusations that it was collaborating with the ELN and said it was fighting rebel groups from Colombia who were trying to destabilize its government.
The Joint Eastern Command is led by former members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia who refused to sign a 2016 peace deal with the government in which more than 13,000 guerrilla fighters gave up their weapons.
In March of last year, more than 5,000 people fled from Venezuela’s Apure state into Colombia as fighting intensified between Venezuela’s army and rebel groups.
Venezuela’s government says it is trying to remove all drug trafficking groups from Apure. In its report, Human Rights Watch claimed that recent military operations in Apure, have been directed solely against the Joint Eastern Command.
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