The Miami Herald

More Colombians massacred in Venezuela

Two new massacres in Venezuelan territory could raise the number of Colombians killed in recent weeks in Venezuela to at least 20, according to officials in both countries.

On Saturday, the bodies of two men were found in the Colombian town of Arauquita, at the foot of the border with Venezuela. On the other side of the border in the Venezuelan state of Apure, two more bodies were found. The deaths occurred at the same time and under the same circumstances, officials said.

Meanwhile, Venezuelan officials and a Colombian consul were in Barinas, where the bodies of six Colombians, killed by mechanical asphyxia, were found in graves, according to relatives and friends.

Also on Saturday, Venezuelan authorities found 10 corpses (eight Colombians, a Venezuelan and a Peruvian) at four sites in the municipality of Fernandez Feo. They had been kidnapped about a week before from a soccer field in Chururu.

Witnesses said armed men traveling in pickup trucks kidnapped 15 people. Four remain missing and a wounded survivor identified as Manuel Cortez Jr. was transferred to Caracas. The Colombians killed in the Fernandez Feo kidnapping worked as street vendors selling peanuts in Tachira state.

Both of the men killed in Arauquita appeared to have been killed at close range. One was identified as Edgar Garcia, who was born in the Colombian border town of Cucuta. Authorities believe the men who were shot in Venezuela on Saturday were also Colombian citizens.

According to Cortez Jr., who survived the kidnapping at the soccer field, heavily armed men kept the group in chains under a bridge guarded by 18 other heavily armed men. About 7 p.m., "They said they were going to liberate us, but instead they took us to different places to kill us.''

Relatives of Edgar Garcia have stated he also lived in Fernandez Feo and knew the other men who were killed. Authorities have not explained why the killers divided the group of four and crossed the border to kill the other two in Colombia.

In a press conference held the same Saturday in the Venezuelan city of San Cristobal, to announce the finding of the 10 corpses, Leomagno Flores, government secretary of Tachira, said authorities believe there were about six more unidentified Colombians killed whose remains have not been found.

Flores attributed the deaths of the peanut vendors to a group of Colombian rebels known as the National Liberation Army (ELN), active in Venezuela.

They are "acting like hyenas, like animals marking their territory,'' said Flores.

Venezuela's vice president, Ramiro Carrizalez, argued that "there are many clues that lead to identify them [the dead] as paramilitaries.'' He also said their jobs as street vendors did not reflect their lifestyles.

As for the six dead from asphyxiation in Barinas state, according to witnesses, their deaths occurred in late August.

Colombia's consul in the area, Moses Jairo Martinez told reporters he will lead an expedition to the site of the deaths.




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