BOGOTA – The Venezuelan government on Monday denied permission for a Colombian administration plane to travel to Venezuela to collect the bodies of Colombians slain on the other side of the countries’ shared border, an official source in Bogota told Efe.
“That permission was requested through four different channels,” an official at the Foreign Ministry said, adding that “Venezuela gave no reason” for the refusal.
Venezuela’s decision not to allow the bodies to be picked up came after Colombian President Alvaro Uribe asked his counterpart Hugo Chavez for both countries to coordinate the protection of citizens on both sides of the border.
“I’m calling on the Venezuelan government, on its president, that above any differences we find a way to coordinate activities to protect Colombian citizens and Venezuelan citizens in their right to life,” Uribe said Monday.
He said his government has “no official hypothesis” about the killings in Venezuela, while Colombian Foreign Minister Jaime Bermudez said that “it could be something to do with mafias, it could be the militias, it could have to do with guerrillas.”
The massacre has sparked a heated controversy in the two countries, for while an official in the Venezuelan state of Tachira, Lemagno Flores, blamed Colombia’s small ELN group, Colombian opposition Sen. Piedad Cordoba believes that the perpetrators were paramilitaries.
Colombian authorities confirmed earlier Monday that a Peruvian and a Venezuelan are among the 10 victims of a massacre of people who were kidnapped and murdered in neighboring Venezuela.
Colombia’s national ombudsman, Volmar Perez, told RCN radio from a spot near the border with Venezuela that it is still not clear who killed the 10 people.
“Of the group of 10 corpses that were found in different spots in Venezuela, finally it was able to be established that eight are Colombians. The body of a Peruvian who is the friend of a Colombian woman was also found, and there is also a Venezuelan,” Perez said.
Perez went to Tachira to arrange “the return of the victims (of the massacre) to Colombian territory.”
In addition, he said that he had received “very efficient” cooperation from Venezuelan authorities, adding that the neighboring country had been asked to carry out a rigorous investigation to determine the circumstances surrounding the killings.
“Different versions have been circulated and of course we can’t commit ourselves to any one of them, but we also can’t discount any of them,” he said.
The head of the Colombian Police, Gen. Oscar Naranjo, offered the investigative capabilities of his agency to cooperate in the investigation.
“It’s imperative that this deed be pursued to the very end to prove who the (parties) are behind a massacre that we regret,” he added.
Colombia’s dispatch of a government airplane to collect the bodies came after Venezuelan Vice President and Defense Minister Ramon Carrizalez called it “tremendous hypocrisy” for Colombian authorities to say they did not have the means to repatriate the victims even as they profess concern about their fate.
The official confirmed that the bodies found on Saturday in Tachira were the peddlers from Colombia who had been kidnapped Oct. 11 in the Venezuelan town of Fernandez Feo, a deed attributed to disputes among illegal armed groups in the region.
Leftist guerrillas, right-wing paramilitaries and well-armed drug traffickers all operate in the border region, a lawless area where kidnappings and other crimes are common.
Members of the Los Maniceros (The Peanut Vendors) soccer team were playing on an improvised soccer field in the town of Chururu when some 25 heavily armed men drove up.
The gunmen asked the referee for the list of players on the Los Maniceros team, called out some names and took those individuals to an unknown destination, police said. EFE