September 9, 2019 - 8:07 pm
BOGOTA, Colombia — A reportedly leaked Venezuelan intelligence report indicates that President Nicolás Maduro’s socialist government is harboring Colombian rebels inside Venezuela, allegations that dovetail with evidence Colombian officials say they will present this month to the United Nations.
Bogota-based Semana magazine on Sunday published a report that it said was based on Venezuelan documents showing how a top military official under instructions from Maduro ordered generals to provide support to a so-called “Red Group” at “training zones” inside Venezuela.
Maduro’s spokesman on Monday called the supposedly secret documents badly forged fakes.
The allegations come against the backdrop of rising tensions between the two countries after Colombian President Ivan Duque accused Maduro of providing safe haven to the former chief negotiator of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, who announced he was rearming.
One of the alleged documents, dated Aug. 9, is signed by Adm. Remigio Ceballos, the second-highest-ranking Venezuelan military officer, and directed to regional military commanders.
In that document, relaying what he said are direct instructions from Maduro, Ceballos orders his subordinates to avoid entering into conflict with a so-called “Red Group at training zones” inside Venezuela. He also instructs members of the national guard in four states to provide training and logistical support to the rebels.
According to the report, “Red Group” is a code word used by Venezuelan security forces to describe guerrillas from the National Liberation Army and FARC, both of which are classified as a terrorist organization by the U.S. and European Union.
Ceballos posted a message on Twitter saying the documents presented by the “war dog” magazine Semana were a falsification. He said the Venezuelan armed forces on a daily basis combat illegal armed groups from Colombia.
Maduro’s minister of communications, Jorge Rodriguez, appeared on Venezuelan state TV alleging the supposedly leaked documents were actually sloppily produced fakes that included glaring errors in the formal headers that confused the name of key Venezuelan agencies.
“They kill the truth in order to prepare the ground for an armed aggression against Venezuela,” Rodriguez said, accusing Colombian officials of backing plots against Maduro.
Semana didn’t say how it obtained the documents and, citing national security concerns, it only published heavily redacted excerpts. The Associated Press was unable to verify the report.
But Foreign Minister Carlos Trujillo said the news report coincides with information his conservative government has collected showing that Maduro has repeatedly violated a U.N. Security Council resolution from 2001 banning support for terror groups. He said Duque will present the evidence when he addresses U.N. General Assembly this month.
“The Maduro regime now favors and protects terrorist organizations from its territory so they can commit crimes against Colombia,” Trujillo told Blu Radio in an interview Monday.
The allegations, for which Duque has so far provided scant evidence, triggered Maduro to deploy anti-aircraft missiles and order military exercises along Venezuela’s western border with Colombia that are set to begin on Tuesday.
Maduro on the eve of deploying his forces called his National Defense Council, made up of his minister and heads of the armed forces. In a state TV address surrounded by the council, he accused Colombian intelligence in the last three months of trying to capture his soldiers to derail his nation’s air defense systems.
“They are playing a game trying to divide the armed forces to weaken the Venezuelan state,” Maduro said. “They have failed and will continue to fail.”
Overall, Colombian authorities estimate as many as 1,000 ELN rebels — or around 40% of the group’s fighting force — operate from Venezuela, where they plan attacks like the January car bombing at a Bogota police academy that killed more than 20 mostly young cadets.
Duque’s government and the United States are among more than 50 nations that back Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who launched a campaign early this year to oust Maduro, claiming a bogus election returned him to power despite the nation’s historic economic crisis.
A Guaidó’ emissary in Washington said Monday that he’s garnered an 11-nation majority to impose measures aimed at ousting Maduro under the 19-member Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance, a defense pact that could provide political cover for greater international involvement in Venezuela’s crisis.
Venezuela’s opposition-run National Assembly led by Guaidó approved the country’s return to the treaty in July, and Gustavo Tarre, Guaidó’s representative to the Organization of American States, said signatory members will vote Wednesday to call for a minister-level conference so they can assess available options in the coming days.