Venezuelan troops deployed to Colombian border

Close ally of Chavez says 10 battalions sent to border region including some 9,000 men; calls move entirely "preventive."

Venezuelan troops 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Venezuelan troops 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Hundreds of Venezuelan troops deployed to the Colombian border on Tuesday under orders from President Hugo Chavez, who is sending about 9,000 soldiers to the frontier. Hundreds of troops were seen boarding four buses and eight trucks at the Paramaracay base in the central city of Valencia on Tuesday morning, headed for the border. Their convoy also included fuel trucks and cranes. A helicopter flew overhead. A base official, speaking on condition of anonymity because she wasn't permitted to speak to reporters, said the troops were heading for the Colombian border, though she didn't specify the location. Elsewhere, in the northern state of Lara, pro-Chavez Gov. Luis Reyes said Tuesday that battalions in his state were heading for the border. "There are mobilizations in Lara state toward the border zone," Reyes, a former lieutenant colonel, told the Venezuelan television station Globovision. The Venezuelan military has been tightlipped about the movement of troops since Sunday, when Chavez ordered 10 battalions to the border, including tanks. Retired Gen. Alberto Muller Rojas, a former aide and close ally of Chavez, told The Associated Press that the 10 battalions being sent to the border region include approximately 9,000 men. He called the troop deployment entirely "preventive." Chavez deployed troops in response to Colombia's killing of a top rebel leader on Ecuadorean soil over the weekend. Ecuador has also sent troops to its border with Colombia, denouncing the military strike as a violation of its sovereignty. Venezuela's military currently has about 100,000 regular troops and a growing force of reservists that now totals 280,000, said Muller, who in retirement is vice president of Chavez's socialist party. Colombia's US-backed military has 255,000 regular troops and 62,000 reservists, according to the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies.