Venezuela on Friday said it had detained 10 people suspected of participating in a cross-border raid Monday that killed 12 Colombian soldiers and has fueled political tensions in both nations.
The men are being turned over to Colombian authorities to verify if they have ties to guerrillas from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, Venezuelan Minister of Defense Henry Rangel said in a release.
The FARC are accused of using Venezuela as a safe haven to stage attacks, including Monday’s deadly raid in northern Colombia, which also left four soldiers injured. Venezuela responded to the attack by sending an additional 3,000 troops to the border.
From Zulia state, along Colombia’s border, Rangel said that any rebels crossing the border would be caught thanks to the “iron hand and the work” of the Venezuelan military.
But the announcement is unlikely to appease critics who have accused Colombian President Juan Manuel Santo of being too soft on the FARC and too lenient with Venezuela.
The previous Colombian administration of Alvaro Uribe had accused its neighbor of harboring the rebels and Rangel of being a FARC sympathizer. In 2008, the U.S. Department of the Treasury put Rangel on its watch list for “materially assisting the narcotics trafficking activities” of the FARC. And Colombian authorities say that intercepted rebel emails show the FARC’s top commander, alias Timochenko, is operating along the Venezuela-Colombia border.
Since taking office in 2010, Santos has tried to smooth over relations with Caracas, and called President Hugo Chávez his “new best friend.” He has also suggested a negotiated end to Colombia’s 50-year confrontation might be in the works. But continued FARC raids, including a brazen bombing in Bogota earlier this month, has opened him up to criticism.
On Friday, Colombia’s Ministry of Defense tried to cool the debate with a report showing forces had killed or captured 21 percent more FARC members in the first five months of the year than the same period in 2011.
The issue has also caused waves in Venezuela, where Chávez’s political opponents are trying to score points before the Oct. 7 presidential election. Chávez has vowed to help Colombian authorities and said he wouldn’t allow guerrillas to use Venezuela to “camp, train or attack other countries.”
But opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles said it was common knowledge that the government turns a blind eye to FARC activities along the border.
“The guerrilla groups are permanently in our Venezuela,” he said in a statement. “It’s important to tell [Chávez] not to lie.”
Started with Marxist roots, the FARC have increasingly turned to drug trafficking and extortion to survive. Both Colombia and the United States consider the group, thought to number 9,000, a terrorist organization.