Iran, Russia aid Venezuela in moving troops to Colombian border

Colombia's defense minister Diego Molano claimed foreign interference by Iran and Russia is at play in South America.

 Colombia's Defense Minister Diego Molano speaks with the Commander of the Colombian Military Forces, General Luis Fernando Navarro (photo credit: LUISA GONZALEZ/REUTERS)
Colombia's Defense Minister Diego Molano speaks with the Commander of the Colombian Military Forces, General Luis Fernando Navarro
(photo credit: LUISA GONZALEZ/REUTERS)

Venezuela is moving troops to the border with Colombia with technical assistance from Russia and Iran, Colombia's defense minister Diego Molano said on Thursday, calling the possible deployment "foreign interference."

Molano, citing intelligence sources, said troop movements were registered in Venezuela opposite Colombia's Arauca province, the scene of fierce fighting between guerrillas of the National Liberation Army (ELN) and FARC dissidents for control of the drugs trade.

Venezuela's government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

"We know that men and units of the FANB have been mobilized towards the border with technical assistance from Russia ... and Iran," Molano said at an anti-drugs conference in Colombia's Caribbean city of Cartagena. FANB is the Spanish acronym of Venezuela's National Bolivarian Armed Forces.

Colombia's human rights ombudsman has reported that clashes between the illegal armed groups in Arauca left 66 dead and 1,200 displaced people in January alone.

Fighting between the groups over control of drug trafficking and other illicit economies began in Venezuela's Apure state, and spread to Colombia, Molano said.

 Colombian soldiers patrol by boat on the Arauca River, at the border between Colombia and Venezuela, as seen from Arauquita, Colombia (credit: REUTERS/LUISA GONZALEZ/FILE PHOTO) Colombian soldiers patrol by boat on the Arauca River, at the border between Colombia and Venezuela, as seen from Arauquita, Colombia (credit: REUTERS/LUISA GONZALEZ/FILE PHOTO)

The ELN has teamed up with the Segunda Marquetalia, a faction of the demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) who reject a 2016 peace deal with the government, to fight another FARC dissident group, he added.

The violence in Arauca, a key area for oil production and cattle rearing, continues despite orders from Colombia's President Ivan Duque in early January for more troops to be deployed there to take control of the territory and end the bloodshed.

The Colombian government accuses Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro of sheltering both FARC dissidents and the ELN, something he has repeatedly denied.

Last year Maduro said his government would combat all manner of illegal armed groups originating from Colombia in Venezuelan territory during 2022.