A Venezuelan politician claimed Thursday the armed forces of his country were turning a blind eye on Colombian ELN rebels on Venezuelan territory.
“The guerrilla columns march on the roads of Tachira [western Venezuela] like ‘Pedro in his house,’ in front of the complacient gaze of our armed forces,” said Leomagno Flores, a Venezuelan opposition National Assembly representative for Tachira.
“In the Apure state, in the Barinas state, in the Tachira state, there is the…ELN coexisting with our soldiers, so I don’t see ‘Payaso’ and ‘Oso mayor,’ who are the leaders of the guerrilla in Tachira, [conforming] to a politic of pacification or living in Colombia…because they operate with a criminal mentality although they are the leaders of the guerrilla,” Flores continued.
The General Assembly representative said the presence of Colombian guerrillas and neo-paramilitaries in Venezuela’s border areas with Colombia had led to increased insecurity and assassinations.
“In Venezuela we are living through an undeclared civil war between the criminals and the citizenry, which has caused 160,000 victims during the last years of this government.”
Flores said there was a risk that left-wing rebels who disagreed with a possible peace accord with the Colombian government could use Venezuelan territory to continue the insurgency.
On Thursday, Maria Corina Machado, a Venezuelan General Assembly representative, said presidential candidate Henrique Capriles would expel FARC and ELN rebels from the border zones with Colombia if elected president on April 14, when Venezuela will hold presidential elections.
“Henrique Capriles has been very firm, in the sense that we will not allow that they use Venezuelan space for the operation of these irregular groups. Our armed forces could have a firm mandate to assure that Venezuelan territory is not [the] safeguard of these groups,” said Machado during a visit to Colombia.
The ELN, Colombia’s second largest rebel group with some 2,500 armed members, has been fighting the Colombian state for nearly half a century. The rebel group still holds a Canadian citizen hostage, who was kidnapped in northern Colombia in mid-January.