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Venezuela says eight soldiers captured in combat with Colombian groups

·2 min read

CARACAS (Reuters) -Eight Venezuelan soldiers have been captured during combat with "irregular Colombian armed groups" in the border state of Apure, Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino said on Saturday.

Padrino did not specify when or where the soldiers were captured, but said the armed forces had received proof they were alive on May 9. A Venezuelan non-governmental organization, Fundaredes, reported on the detentions earlier this week, but Venezuelan officials had not previously commented.

"We have established the necessary contacts for their prompt liberation, and the Republic's Foreign Ministry is coordinating with the International Committee of the Red Cross to act as a link for the release of our brothers in arms," Padrino said, reading a statement on state television.

The channel also broadcast a 15-second video of the eight men wearing olive-green T-shirts standing in a tent. One of the men appears to be speaking, but no audio was broadcast.

At least a dozen Venezuelan soldiers have died in Apure since battles against unidentified Colombian armed groups began in late March. Fundaredes said the captured soldiers had been taken by the 10th front of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels, citing a supposed communique by the group.

Critics of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's government say he has granted safe harbor to FARC factions that have disavowed a 2016 peace deal with neighboring Colombia's government, and that the Venezuelan military is now being drawn into conflicts between rival illegal groups.

"Not only did Nicolas Maduro's regime gift our sovereignty to terrorist groups, it also puts our soldiers at risk to serve its criminal allies," Tomas Guanipa, opposition leader Juan Guaido's representative to Colombia, wrote on Twitter on Saturday.

(Reporting by Deisy Buitrago; Writing by Luc Cohen; Editing by Diane Craft, Aurora Ellis and Daniel Wallis)

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