BOGOTA (Reuters) – Colombia will not allow its border with Venezuela to become a sanctuary for the leftist ELN rebel group, President Ivan Duque said on Friday, after local media published documents said to show Venezuela has given weapons to the group.
Local media Red+ Noticias, which published the documents late on Thursday, said they are signed by Venezuelan military leaders and reference orders from Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro that the armed forces treat the National Liberation Army (ELN) rebels as their allies and avoid targeting them.
Another document purportedly shows the Venezuelan military gave explosives to the guerrillas, who have fought the Colombian government for more than five decades.
Reuters could not independently verify the content of the documents, one of which Red+ said was signed by Remigio Ceballos, the commander of the Venezuelan armed forces.
Venezuela’s Information Ministry and Defence Ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
“We won’t allow the border to become a sanctuary for the ELN,” Duque told journalists, adding the military will be on high alert to prevent the ELN from receiving any weapons or aid from Venezuela.
“It doesn’t surprise me,” he said of the report. “The ELN’s top leadership are in Venezuelan territory. (Maduro) has been giving them arms, money and help for several years.”
Maduro’s help is motivating the ELN to forcibly recruit children and commit crimes in the two countries’ border area, Duque added.
The 2,000-strong guerrilla group, founded in 1964, is considered a terrorist organisation by the United States and the European Union. It regularly bombs oil pipelines and in January claimed responsibility for an attack on Bogota’s police academy that killed more than 20 people.
The porous 2,200-km (1,370-mile) border between the neighbouring countries is a hub for smuggling and the transit of Venezuelan migrants fleeing hyperinflation and their country’s political crisis.
Incidents involving Venezuelan soldiers crossing the border without permission are common and have contributed to diplomatic tensions between the two countries.
(Reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb and Nelson Bocanegra; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)