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Anti-government 'mercenaries' hunted after stealing weapons in attack on Venezuelan army base

Maduro claimed the “terrorist” group had ties to Colombia and the United States.

An anti-government demonstrator wearing a Russian military hat protests the government of Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas.
An anti-government demonstrator wearing a Russian military hat protests the government of Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas.
Image: AP/PA Images

VENEZUELA’S MILITARY SAYS it is hunting a group of “mercenaries” who made off with weapons after an attack on an army base carried out against what they called the “murderous tyranny” of President Nicolas Maduro.

Around 20 men led by an army officer who had deserted battled troops in the base in the third city of Valencia for three hours early yesterday, officials said.

The raid ended with two of the attackers being killed and eight captured, Maduro said on state television.

The other 10 escaped with weapons taken from the facility, according to officials who said an “intense search” was underway for them.

Maduro claimed the “terrorist” group had ties to Colombia and the United States.

The incident heightened fears that Venezuela’s deepening political and economic crisis could explode into greater violence, perhaps open armed conflict.

Officials insisted afterward that all was normal across the country.

Military helicopters flew overhead and tactical armored vehicles patrolled the streets in Valencia, a major northwestern city, in a climate of tension after the attack.

Locals said a nighttime curfew was imposed. Police dispersed protesters who had set up flaming barricades across roads.

The armed forces said in a statement “a group of civilian criminals wearing military uniforms and a first lieutenant who had deserted” carried out the attack.

Maduro said the lieutenant, among those captured, was “actively giving information and we have testimony from seven of the civilians.”

Loyal military chiefs

Venezuela Political Crisis Soldiers patrol inside the Paramacay military base in Valencia. Source: AP/PA Images

Maduro congratulated the army for its “immediate reaction” in putting down the attack, saying they earned his “admiration.”

Venezuela’s opposition has repeatedly urged the military to abandon Maduro.

But Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino, the head of the armed forces, has said the military’s loyalty was unshakable.

In a video posted online just before the attack, a man presenting himself as an army captain named Juan Caguaripano declared a “legitimate rebellion… to reject the murderous tyranny of Nicolas Maduro.”

Speaking with 15 men in camouflage standing by him, some of them armed, he demanded a transitional government and “free elections.”

It was not known if he was the lieutenant referred to in the military statement, demoted for deserting, or whether he was another renegade officer.

That statement said the lieutenant involved had deserted three years ago and taken refuge in Miami, in the US state of Florida.

© AFP 2017

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