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Amid criticism, Colombia defends assertions that Venezuela's Maduro supports rebels

Amid criticism, Colombia defends assertions that Venezuela's Maduro supports rebels
FILE PHOTO: Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro gestures during a news conference in Caracas, Venezuela, September 30, 2019. REUTERS/Manaure Quintero -
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MANAURE QUINTERO(Reuters)
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BOGOTA (Reuters) – Colombia on Monday defended evidence it says proves Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro supports guerrilla groups and drug traffickers, after the Colombian government was roundly criticized for publishing a dossier that included uncredited photographs taken by media outlets.

Colombia has long accused Maduro of sheltering rebel fighters and crime gang members. The allegations reached a fever pitch last month when several former commanders from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) announced they were re-arming in a video Colombian officials say was filmed in Venezuela.

President Ivan Duque announced in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly last week that he would give the organisation a dossier of “conclusive proof,” including photographs, of Maduro’s support for terrorist groups.

The dossier included years-old uncredited photos from news agencies taken in Colombia – not in Venezuela – which led Maduro to dismiss the dossier’s contents and sparked widespread criticism of Duque from media outlets and nongovernmental organizations.

“It’s just an issue of design and of giving credit at the foot of the photos,” Foreign Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo told journalists. “In consequence, we are going to update using the armed forces’ exclusive photos so it’s clear.”

“What’s important is the grave threat of the Maduro regime to the peace and stability of Colombia, the grave threat of the Maduro regime to the peace, the security and stability of the region,” Trujillo said, adding that he will continue to decry the Venezuelan government on the international stage.

The head of the national police, General Oscar Atehortua, presented photographs of three leaders from the National Liberation Army (ELN) rebels he said had been taken in recognizable public places in cities in Venezuela and obtained from devices confiscated in Colombian military operations.

ELN leader Carlos Emilio Marin, known by his nom de guerre Pablito, is hiding in the Venezuelan province of Apure, officials said.

“Venezuela is serving as a sanctuary for the leaders of the ELN and (FARC dissidents),” Defense Minister Guillermo Botero said. “They have bank accounts, they launder money, they do tourism, they have properties there without the authorities doing anything at all.”

Colombia is among more than 50 countries that back opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s rightful leader, rejecting Maduro’s re-election last year as illegitimate.

Maduro accuses Colombia of preparing to attack Venezuela, and has repeatedly warned of an invasion coordinated with the United States. He says Guaido is a U.S. puppet.

(Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta in Bogota; Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

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