World / Politics

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

Reuters

Colombia on Monday publicly defended a dossier it says proves Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro supports guerrilla groups and drug traffickers, but removed the armed forces’ head of intelligence after widespread criticism of the report.

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) said 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 organization 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 — that led Maduro to dismiss the dossier’s contents and sparked widespread criticism of Duque from media outlets and nongovernmental organizations.

The armed forces’ head of intelligence, Gen. Oswaldo Pena, was removed from his post because of the photographs, high-level government and military sources told Reuters.

A statement from the defense ministry made no mention of Pena being fired, but said in a statement that he had presented his resignation because of “the necessity of responding for my actions.”

Colombian officials defended the report’s conclusions earlier on Monday.

“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.

“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.

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

An ELN leader 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.

Maduro accuses Colombia of preparing to attack Venezuela, and says Guaido is a U.S. puppet.

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