The Observers

Venezuela-Colombia border: A look back at several months of conflict in Apure State

The Observers spoke to Luisa, who fled from Venezuela to Colombia to seek refuge from ongoing bombings.
The Observers spoke to Luisa, who fled from Venezuela to Colombia to seek refuge from ongoing bombings. © Observers

Nearly 5,000 Venezuelans crossed the Arauca River to Colombia between the end of March and the beginning of April. They fled to seek refuge from the Venezuelan army intervention in their region, the state of Apure, to hunt down Colombian armed groups. More than two months after the start of the conflict, many of the displaced have returned to Venezuela and several soldiers held by the armed groups have been released. The Observers took a look at these weeks of conflict in a border region plagued by trafficking.

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The military operation launched on March 21 in the Apure region led to several weeks of conflict between the Venezuelan armed forces and the Frente Decimo, a dissident group of the FARC, former Colombian guerrilla group. Nearly 5,000 inhabitants of the affected area fled to the Colombian town of Arauquita where displaced persons camps were set up.

In an investigation published in April, Human Rights Watch accused Venezuelan security forces of extrajudicial executions, arbitrary arrests and torture. A resident of Apure contacted by our editorial staff in May told us she left Venezuela because of military bombings, but also because she worried the military would attack civilians who had nothing to do with Colombian armed groups. 

For several years, the border area between Venezuela and Colombia has been marked by the presence of numerous armed groups involved in trafficking. "The drug traffickers use Venezuela as a launching point to international markets," said Bram Ebus, a journalist and consultant with the International Crisis Group. "In Apure, there are multiple armed groups competing to profit from illicit economies with state groups, which are also involved in drug trafficking. The competition increased to the point that there was tension and the Venezuelan army decided to get rid of the most troublesome armed actor."

On May 31, the armed forces freed eight Venezuelan soldiers who were being held by the Frente Decimo. According to official figures, 16 soldiers have been killed since the launch of the operation in Apure.

Since the beginning of May, conflicts in the region have decreased in intensity and many displaced people have returned to their homes in Venezuela.