CARACAS – Venezuela’s Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez denied on Tuesday that soldiers from his nation are involved with the Colombian rebel group ELN after the neighboring country’s president, Juan Manuel Santos, said that a Venezuelan citizen was apparently a member of the insurgency.
“We have examined our files ... there is absolutely no record that either of those two citizens, whose names we now have, has ever worked for or offered their services to the National Guard. It’s completely false, I reject it,” Padrino Lopez said in Caracas.
He demanded a “serious and transparent investigation regarding the alleged involvement of those two Venezuelans.”
Padrino Lopez denounced what he called an attempt to give the National Liberation Army (ELN) a “Venezuelan overtone” and repeating his request for a meeting with Colombian counterpart Luis Carlos Villegas to discuss this issue as well as bolstering of security along the long, porous border the two countries share.
Santos said last Sunday that an ELN rebel who died last week while placing an explosive device on a highway “belongs or belonged” to Venezuela’s National Guard.
In a telephone conversation last week, Villegas told Padrino Lopez that during a so-called “armed strike” that the ELN declared in Colombia the previous week authorities were able to determine that “Colombian and Venezuelan (guerrillas) were carrying out terrorist and armed actions against the population.”
Villegas also said the number of Venezuelans participating in such actions was growing.
The ELN declared the “armed strike” – aimed at shutting down travel and transport – to protest the Colombian government’s decision to suspend peace talks.
Santos’ administration late last month suspended those negotiations, which began in early 2017, after a surge in attacks by the rebel group.