Venezuela said on Friday it had arrested eight Colombians and two local residents suspected of paramilitary activities on the border between the two feuding South American neighbors.
The arrests in Venezuela’s western Tachira state were the latest incident in a region where Colombian guerrilla groups, paramilitary militia, drug-traffickers and other criminal gangs all operate and violence is rampant.
Venezuela’s Interior Minister Tarek El Aissami said the eight Colombians included a known paramilitary leader. Two guns of a type used by hitmen were captured with them, he said.
“All these people were intimidating the local population and especially threatening local businessmen,” he told state television. “These people were handing out pamphlets, as the paramilitaries do, saying social cleansing was going to start — that is to say murders and disappearances.”
The arrests came a few days after the discovery of 10 corpses, in the same area, of mainly Colombians shot dead under murky circumstances.
The Venezuelan minister did not directly link that case to Friday’s arrests.
Earlier this week, Caracas said it had arrested three men charged with spying for Bogota in a case that has worsened already dire relations between Venezuela’s socialist President Hugo Chavez and U.S. ally President Alvaro Uribe of Colombia.