Venezuela has launched a major military operation along the border with
Colombia to protect its national sovereignty, Vice President Ramon
Carrizales said Friday, one week after Bogota did some sabre rattling
of its own.
Carrizales, who is also Venezuela’s Defense Minister, said operation
“Sentinel” will involve the National Guard and three branches of the
armed forces, and extend along the entire 2,219-kilometer (1,379-mile)
border with Colombia.
The objective, he told a public television
channel, is to fight crime, including drug trafficking, and protect
Operation Sentinel follows Venezuela
President Hugo Chavez’ warning Sunday that he would respond to any
Colombian military incursion, after Bogota said it would pursue
Colombia’s leftist FARC guerrillas even across the border into
Carrizales said that starting Friday he
would visit all border military posts to take in their commander’s
views and suggestions.
According to General Freddy Carrion, four
brigades — total troop number not provided — along with 20 combat
aircraft would take part in the “large scale” operation, which will
also check for all type of smuggling across the border into Colombia.
and Venezuela nearly came to blows a year ago after Colombia bombed a
FARC rebel base inside Ecuador, Venezuela’s leftist ally in the region.
Both countries reinforced their border areas with troops but stopped
short of military action.
The two countries withdrew their
ambassadors in November 2007, after Colombian President Alvaro Uribe
said Chavez was meddling in his internal affairs and dismissed him as
an intermediary in hostage-release talks with the Revolutionary Armed
Forces of Colombia (FARC).
On Friday, the diplomatic spat eased
somewhat when Colombia named a new ambassador to Caracas, Maria Luisa
Chiappe. It is now expected that Venezuela will reciprocate by
appointing a new emissary to Bogota.
Vice President Carrizales
also raised concern over Colombia’s plan to eradicate coca leaf and
marijuana plantations near its border with Venezuela by aerial
fumigation, despite Colombia’s assurances the program would not extend
to the border area itself.
The vice president said the issue would be raised at the meeting of both countries’ foreign ministers in Caracas on Thursday.