President Hugo Chavez says 18 soldiers have died in a helicopter crash near Venezuela's border with Colombia. The soldiers were patrolling the 2,300-kilometer border separating Venezuela and Colombia when the aircraft crashed on Sunday, killing the crew and pilots. A general was among the victims. Chavez praised the soldiers for safeguarding Venezuela's sovereignty, saying the United States shouldn't be criticizing Venezuela for allegedly failing to prevent incursions into Venezuela by Colombian rebels and right-wing paramilitaries. The US State Department's annual assessment of terrorism released last week said Venezuela "did not systematically police" the border.