Eight Venezuelan soldiers have been killed in fighting with illegal Colombian armed groups along the border with Colombia, the Venezuelan Defense Ministry says.
Venezuelan Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino provided the casualty toll in a brief statement published on the ministry’s website on Wednesday, listing the names of the fallen soldiers but not offering other details.
Earlier in the day, Army Commander General Domingo Hernandez tweeted that four sergeants had been killed on the battlefield during fighting “in defense of the fatherland.” He did not provide any details regarding the location and date of their deaths. But those four were included on Padrino’s list.
Reports said that representatives of the Catholic Church had recovered the bodies of some of the dead soldiers.
According to rights groups, the fighting, which began in the border areas of western Apure State in late March, has so far forced thousands of civilians to flee into neighboring Colombia.
Venezuelan authorities have said previously that the Colombian militia are backed by Bogota.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has said the armed groups are disguised as guerrillas but are in fact tied to the Colombian army and the government of Colombian President Ivan Duque.
But security sources in Colombia claim that the armed groups are dissidents from the now-disbanded Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebel group, which signed a peace agreement with Bogota in 2016 to end a half-century of armed conflict. Some guerrilla fighters refused to join the peace process.
Early this year, Human Rights Watch (HRW) warned in a report that residents in Apure and the neighboring Colombian state of Arauca faced brutal violence from armed militants on a daily basis.