Venezuela Tuesday detained 19 Colombians, who were allegedly “caught red-handed” carrying rifles, in the Yaguapita forest in the north Venezuelan state of Miranda.
The police report said that the Colombians “were indiscriminately cutting down trees and vegetation in the zone.”
Fire-arms of various calibres and cartridges were also seized during the arrests and Venezuelan authorities have not ruled out the detainees “could belong to a military cell.”
The Colombians case was passed on to Venezuelan prosecutor, who will be responsible for establishing more details on the incident.
Tensions between Colombia and Venezuela have escalated in recent weeks due to several reported cases of Colombian citizens being targeted by Venezuelan authorities.
Colombian President Alvaro Uribe said of the arrests, “We can not allow Colombians to be persecuted for their nationality.”
The Colombian government released an official statement advising its citizens not to travel to Venezuela, warning of the “risks” involved in entering the neighboring country.
Diplomatic ties between Colombia and Venezuela were severed in 2009, after Colombia signed a controversial pact with the U.S. which grants the Americans access to seven Colombian military bases. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez says that the pact is part of a scheme by the U.S. to undermine sovereignty in the region.
Colombia and Venezuela have intermittently locked horns since Chavez took office more than a decade ago. Venezuela often complains about spillover from Colombia’s long guerrilla war, while Uribe’s government says Chavez has not done enough to stop FARC guerrillas from taking refuge the Venezuelan border.