By Julia Symmes Cobb and Luis Jaime Acosta
BOGOTA (Reuters) – There is “no doubt” it would be easier to combat Colombia’s rebel groups if Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro were no longer in power, Colombia’s foreign minister said, amid accusations that Caracas is providing the groups with shelter.
On Thursday, former leaders from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) announced a new offensive in a video believed to have been filmed in Venezuela.
Ex-FARC commanders Ivan Marquez and Jesus Santrich appeared surrounded by armed fighters in the YouTube video, saying a 2016 peace accord had been betrayed.
The announcement was condemned by President Ivan Duque’s government, the United Nations and the FARC political party, whose leadership said the majority of ex-rebels remain committed to peace despite “difficulties and dangers.”
Combating the dissidents, who are estimated to number more than 2,200, and separate rebel group the National Liberation Army (ELN) would be easier were Maduro no longer in power, Foreign Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo said in an interview late on Friday.
“This regime protects them: it has opened its doors to them. This regime facilitates their actions from its territory,” said Trujillo.
Asked what proof Colombia has of rebel presence in Venezuela, Trujillo said: “There are indicators; there is a hypothesis: that’s the information that we have.”
The United States also believes the Maduro government is providing shelter to dissident FARC and ELN groups, a senior State Department official said.
Venezuelan Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez on Saturday said authorities foiled an attack he said was organised in Colombia that had targeted Venezuela’s Supreme Court and a police special forces unit.
He said Duque had ordered that 200 men be trained in three camps in Colombia to carry out paramilitary terrorist actions.
“The current government of Colombia (has) turned its politics into a true threat to the tranquillity of Venezuela,” Rodriguez said in televised comments.
Duque’s press office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the accusation.
Separately, Duque said in a statement that he plans to denounce Maduro at the United Nations and the Organization of American States for protecting terrorists.
Venezuela’s foreign ministry on Friday blamed the dissident rearmament on Duque’s failure to follow through on the peace accords, and Maduro tweeted his government was committed to promoting peace in Colombia. Neither mentioned the issue of rebel presence in Venezuelan territory.
Trujillo said the neighbouring Venezuelan government was a “dictatorship.”
“The end of this dictatorship, of this tyranny, would be the best for Venezuela, the best for Colombia, the best for the region,” Trujillo said.
Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, who is recognised by more than 50 countries as his country’s legitimate leader, is committed to the fight against illegal armed groups, Trujillo said.
Maduro says Guaido is a puppet of the United States.
Colombia will seek Interpol red notices for anyone involved with dissident groups who may be based in Venezuela, Trujillo said.
“The ELN is there, commanders of the ELN, and those commanders are going to work in coordination with this narco-terrorist group that was announced (Thursday),” he said.
(Reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb and Luis Jaime Acosta, Additional reporting by Deisy Buitrago in Caracas, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien and Daniel Wallis)