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Caracas joins border slayings row

By Will Grant
BBC News, Caracas

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Venezuela has said a group of men whose bodies turned up on its side of the border with Colombia were Colombian paramilitaries training in Venezuela.

The comments by Venezuelan Vice-President Ramon Carrizalez come a week after the bodies of the 11 men were dumped in Venezuela.

It happened after the men were kidnapped in early October in the middle of an amateur football match.

Colombia has urged Venezuela to co-operate in the investigation.

'Paramilitary infiltration'

Since the bodies of the men appeared at various points along the Venezuelan-Colombian border, there has been much speculation in the Venezuelan media as to who they were and why they had been targeted by an unidentified armed group.

The threat is materialising, but we are also preparing to defend our territory to ensure our sovereignty
Venezuelan Vice-President Ramon Carrizalez

Now Mr Carrizalez delivered the government's verdict.

Speaking on national television, he said the men were Colombian paramilitaries training on Venezuelan soil.

He said the men formed part of a "paramilitary infiltration" of Venezuela which was planning to emerge in Caracas and other major cities to destabilise the socialist government of President Hugo Chavez.

"The threat is materialising," said Mr Carrizalez, "but we are also preparing to defend our territory to ensure our sovereignty."

His announcement is at odds with the initial descriptions of the murdered men as simple street vendors who had been kidnapped while playing football together in early October.

The families of the men deny that they were involved in any paramilitary activity.

The opposition governor of the Venezuelan border state of Tachira, Cesar Perez Vivas, has also repeatedly challenged the national government's version of events and accuses the government of failing to properly police the border region.

Mr Carrizalez's comments come at a difficult time in relations between the two neighbouring countries.

Last month, the Venezuelan authorities arrested three men who they accuse of spying for the Colombian intelligence service DAS - something robustly denied by Bogota.



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