Latin America & Caribbean

Venezuela shoots down two 'hostile' planes

Disabled plane in Venezuela Image copyright @AKeleris
Image caption Venezuela's Anti-Drugs Agency said the plane was given due warning

Venezuela says two light aircraft have been shot down after entering the country's airspace over the weekend.

These were the first mid-air attacks by fighter jets since a bill authorising such action against illegal planes was approved earlier this month, the Bolivarian Armed Forces said.

The aircraft were allegedly smuggling drugs from Central America and refused to follow the military pilots' orders.

Another 11 unauthorised planes have been disabled on the ground this year.

Venezuelan security forces say more than 35 tonnes of drugs have been found this year.

The head of Venezuela's Strategic Operational Centre, General Vladimir Padrino Lopez, told the country's state television that a plane had been targeted after "all other means of persuasion had been exhausted" in the early hours of Saturday.

"This was the first plane shot mid-air in the country since the approval of the Law and Control Regulation for the Integral Defence of the National Airspace, following the orders of our commander-in-chief, President Nicolas Maduro," Gen Padrino said.

'Narco-traffickers'

Another plane allegedly tried to evade the authorities by trying to land on an illegal airstrip in the jungle and was also shot down.

"These are drug trafficking mafias which intend to use our country as a platform for drug distribution, trespassing our airspace," the head of the National Anti-Drugs Agency, Alejandro Keleris Bucarito said, after posting a photo of the destroyed plane on Twitter.

The two incidents suggest the Venezuelan government is stepping up its efforts to prevent drug-trafficking flights over its airspace, particularly since President Maduro issued a public warning to drug smugglers, the BBC's Will Grant says.

After the approval of the airspace bill, earlier in October, Mr Maduro threatened "international narco-traffickers".

"Any plane entering Venezuela is going to be obliged to land in peace. If not, it will be brought down by our Sukhoi jets, our F-16s and by all of the Venezuelan military aviation," he said.

During the late President Hugo Chavez's period in power, the US Drug Enforcement Administration was expelled from the country provoking criticism from Washington that the Venezuelan authorities weren't doing enough to tackle drug cartels operating in the country.

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