Venezuela blows up two bridges along Colombia border

Experts warn that Venezuela blowing up two bridges on the Colombia border could result in an 'actual shooting battle.'

A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

Venezuelan forces destroyed two pedestrian bridges that spanned the border with Colombia, further heightening tensions between the two countries that have been at odds since Colombia agreed to allow the US military to expand its presence on Colombian bases.

The Guardian reports that Eusebio Aguero, a Venezuelan general in the border state of Táchira, confirmed that Venezuelan forces destroyed the bridges, which he said were used for illegal smuggling.

El Universal, a Caracas newspaper, reports that Venezuela's Vice President and Minister of Defense Ramon Carrizález Rengifo echoed Gen. Aguero's comments, and claimed that Venezuela's actions were legal. "Border passages between two places are agreed upon by the two governments in such places where there is presence of both States. ... Any other passage in the more than 2,000 kilometers of border we share with Colombia is an illegal crossing," he said.

Relations between Colombia and Venezuela have deteriorated since Colombia and the US negotiated to allow US forces to have access to seven Colombian military bases. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in August claimed that the base-sharing deal was the first step in an American military campaign in South America, and froze relations with Colombia as a result. Colombia, which finalized the agreement with the US late last month, says that the plan is merely an expansion of US-Colombian efforts to fight drug trafficking. The Christian Science Monitor reported that the plan caps the number of US military personnel in Colombia at 800, though the agreement does appear to allow the US to launch operations beyond Colombian borders.

Maruja Tarre, a Caracas-based consultant and a former international relations professor, told the Los Angeles Times in an interview that Mr. Chavez's opposition to the expanded US presence in Colombia may be derived from a fear that it would allow the US to better monitor Venezuelan activities. Ms. Tarre speculates that the US military might then be able to prove that members of the FARC rebel group, which Colombia is battling, are operating from within Venezuelan territory:

Tarre adds that Chavez might welcome a shooting conflict with Colombia, as it would allow him to move against his political enemies within Venezuela.

Bloomberg reports that Mr. Chávez ordered more troops to the Colombian border earlier this month, and said that he may declare a state of emergency in response to the killing of two border patrol officials by unknown assailants. The ongoing hostilities have some predicting an eventual outbreak of combat between the two nations, though one that will fall short of a full-fledged war.

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