MUNICIPALITY OF ARAUQUITA, Colombia (Reuters) – Venezuelans fleeing to Colombia to escape clashes between the Venezuelan army and irregular armed groups have accused soldiers of abuse, including murder of civilians.
The flow of refugees, estimated at 4,000 by an official in Colombia’s Arauquita municipality, began on Sunday after Venezuela’s Bolivarian National Armed Forces (FANB) launched an offensive against illegal armed groups in La Victoria, a town Venezuelan across the Arauca River from Arauquita.
Venezuela has said it is investigating accusations that members of its military have committed abuses, including the detention and murder of civilians, as well as the looting and burning of houses.
“They raided our house and took everything from us. When they arrived, they broke everything, the doors; they came in and took everything I had in the house, the workshop, ”mechanic Jose Castillo, who arrived in Colombia with his pregnant wife and 12-year-old daughter, told Reuters on Friday.
“I couldn’t stay because they are killing people. They killed some neighbors and dressed them in Venezuelan army uniforms to pass them off as guerrillas, ”Castillo said.
Reuters could not independently verify Castillo’s accusations, or those of other displaced Venezuelans who showed photos on their cellphones of the deceased wearing camouflage uniforms with weapons beside their hands.
Dissidents from the Revolutionary Demobilized Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which rejects a 2016 peace deal with the Colombian government, are targets of military operations, according to the fleeing civilians.
But the victims were residents of La Victoria and the surrounding area, they said.
Venezuelan Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez told a press conference that two Venezuelan soldiers were killed in clashes with six irregular fighters whom he called terrorists.
39 others were captured, he added in a statement.
“We must expel any group of any ideology, of any foreign nationality,” said Padrino. “We are forced to expel them, whatever their name.”
The charges against the Venezuelan military do not reflect its ethics, Padrino said.
The Venezuelan armed forces are obliged to defend the country against irregular groups, he said, adding that human rights would be respected and that the events would be investigated.
In a separate statement, Venezuela’s defense ministry accused the Colombian government and the US Central Intelligence Agency of supporting foreign fighters.
The Colombian government and the CIA were not immediately available for comment.
Venezuela’s chief prosecutor, Tarek Saab, wrote in a series of Twitter messages that Venezuela is investigating the events in La Victoria, to see if rights have been violated.
Colombian President Ivan Duque accused the government of his Venezuelan counterpart Nicolas Maduro of sheltering FARC dissidents and members of the National Liberation Army (ELN), which the Caracas government denies