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Venezuela-Colombia row drives out poor border residents

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By Adrian Lancashire  with Reuters, EFE
Venezuela-Colombia row drives out poor border residents

Imposing martial law at its border, Venezuela continues to lash out at neighbour Colombia, after a shootout left three soldiers wounded. Venezuela says it is cracking down on smugglers but it has also forced out families who have lived along the border for years, marking homes for demolition and prompting many to leave in panic.

The centre-right Colombian government says more than 1,000 people have been deported from Venezuela unfairly.

The South American neighbours share a more than 2,000-kilometre-long border plagued by drug trafficking, paramilitaries, left-wing guerrillas and smugglers.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has blamed many of his recession-hit country’s problems on Colombians. Five million of them live in Venezuela (whose own population is 33 million).

Maduro said: “We are looking for a new border. The border is rotten. We are victims of capitalism, of the Colombian right-wing paramilitary model of capitalism.”

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos appealed for dialogue and diplomacy.

He said: “This is not the time to sound the trumpets of war that some want to hear. It is the time to work firmly but with sensitivity and efficiency to resolve the situation, and above all to defend the lives and dignity of our compatriots.”

Maduro accuses Colombia of acting to undermine his leftist Bolivarian government.

In Venezuela, the opposition said Maduro is using the crisis to divert attention from chronic shortages of basic goods. Economists blame the collapse of the economy on Venezuela’s strict currency controls that cripple imports.

The Colombian government has said the border crisis should not be used for political point-scoring by leaders in either country ahead of elections in the coming months.