Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the armed forces to be on alert for a potential attack by Colombia's government and announced military exercises on the border amid the rearmament of a group of former guerrilla commanders from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Tensions have been mounting between the two South American countries, as Colombia accused the neighboring nation's president of harboring FARC rebels.
"I have ordered the strategic operations commander of the Bolivarian Armed Forces and all the military units on the border to declare an alert... in the face of the threatened aggression by Colombia toward Venezuela," Maduro said in a televised broadcast. A set of military exercises that are carried out each year will be held between Sept. 10 and Sept. 29 in the states of Zulia, Tachira, Apure and Amazonas, which border Colombia, Maduro said. They are the third such exercises this year.
Despite the dramatic rhetoric, the statements are consistent with frequent disputes between the two nations for over a decade that have at times included troop movements for political effect. Previous incidents have ended in grudging reconciliation.
The already fraught relations between the socialist president and his Colombian counterpart Ivan Duque have grown even worse after former FARC leaders last week formally rejected a 2016 peace deal and announced a return to arms. Right-wing Duque has pledged to hunt down dissident leaders and has accused Maduro of providing "shelter and support" for the rebels.
The U.S., which has launched a broad set of sanctions against Maduro's government in efforts to hasten his departure, says Venezuela's government provides a safe haven to Colombian armed groups. Earlier, Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido backed the use of satellites to help locate guerrilla groups that have crossed into Venezuela.
Colombia and FARC reached a peace deal in November 2016, ending more than 50 years of conflict between the two sides. FARC is the oldest and largest group among Colombia's left-wing rebels and is one of the world's richest guerrilla armies. The group was founded in 1964, when it declared its intention to overthrow the government and install a Marxist regime. The group was accused by human rights groups of forcibly recruiting women and children, especially those under the age of 15. Their main target is the Colombian security forces and they have attacked police stations and military posts. As part of the reconciliation process, FARC rebels started disarming and demobilizing, and the group reportedly surrendered a list of the 5,765 guerrillas to the Colombian military.