Latin America & Caribbean

Colombia: 'Crime drops' after Venezuela border operation

Venezuelan soldier on the border town of Paragachon, 15 Sep 15 Image copyright AFP
Image caption Venezuela said smuggling gangs and paramilitaries had been operating on the border area

The Colombian government has acknowledged that crime and smuggling have gone down since Venezuela deployed thousands of troops along their common border two months ago.

The move was initially criticised by Colombia, which complained that it had not been consulted.

But Colombian Defence Minister Luis Carlos Villegas has now published a review hailing the results.

The number of murders in the border area has dropped by 10%, he said.

More than 150,000 gallons of petrol and 400 cattle have been seized by Colombian forces since Venezuela's border security operation was launched on 19 August, added Mr Villegas.

"We have reached a new era of co-operation with Venezuela's defence minister," he said.

The report was presented to President Juan Manuel Santos and his cabinet during a meeting in the border department of Arauca.

Mr Villegas praised the results of the operation launched unilaterally by Venezuela, but said Colombia was already successfully tackling criminal activities in the area.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Mr Villegas (left) met his Venezuelan counterpart, Vladimir Padrino, earlier this month in Colombia

"I can affirm today that the border with Venezuela on the Colombian side is safer now than a year ago," he said.

"And I can undoubtedly affirm that the border is safer today than 60 days ago."

Cheap smuggled petrol

Venezuela surprised Colombia on 21 August when it deployed more than 1,000 troops and closed the main crossings along the 2,200km (1,400-mile) border.

The move followed a shootout in which several Venezuelan soldiers were wounded by smugglers.

Other troops were taken to the area in the following days to tackle crime and smuggling.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said that for many years Colombia had overlooked the problem, which was hurting the Venezuelan economy.

Items subsidised by Venezuela's socialist government, including cheap petrol, are smuggled and sold at huge profit on the Colombian side of the border.

Mr Santos recalled his ambassador to Caracas shortly after the operation was launched, complaining about the treatment of Colombians who lived illegally in Venezuela.

More than 1,500 of them were expelled and thousands more fled in the following days.

"I agree that criminal organisations working in the border area are a big problem, but the best way to deal with it is by working together," said Mr Santos.

The two presidents met in Ecuador on 17 September and agreed to "a progressive normalisation" of their common border.

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