Venezuelan authorities confirmed on Monday the rescue in the southern state of Apure of the eight soldiers who were kidnapped amid clashes with Colombian irregular armed groups. The government did not give details of the recovery operation or of which armed group was holding them.
The military were rescued “today, May 31” through an operation called “Centennial Eagle”, said the Venezuelan Defense Minister, General Vladimir Padrino López, in a statement released late Monday night through Twitter.
The soldiers were captured during the fighting that started on March 21. The authorities confirmed the kidnapping on May 15, after receiving six days before “a life certificate”.
“We have been carrying out enormous efforts in order to achieve the recovery of the patriotic brothers, who happily we already have with us safe and sound,” said the military chief in the letter. “At this time, accompanied by an excellent group of military doctors, we provide care to 8 courageous patriots.”
Padrino López did not identify the released soldiers.
“On the other hand, we make it public knowledge that we continue to search for two other troops,” he added, referring to other soldiers who are missing. It was the first mention of the disappearance of those two soldiers, whom he also did not identify.
Since the fighting began in the state of Apure, bordering Colombia, the authorities have declined to identify the armed groups they are facing and their brief reports are being released in a trickle.
The government of President Nicolás Maduro just made the kidnapping public four days after confirming to the International Committee of the Red Cross on May 11 that it received a letter signed by a Colombian rebel group that has been fighting against the Venezuelan Armed Forces since March and in the that their leaders expressed that they were trying to find a way to hand them over to human rights groups.
The Red Cross said at the time that it could not comment further on the matter because doing so would compromise its humanitarian work.
In the letter, the group known as the Frente Décimo Martín Villa stated that it captured the soldiers on April 23 during a confrontation in the state of Apure.
The letter – which was also published on the Internet by Fundaredes, a Venezuelan human rights organization – listed the names and ranks of the soldiers, including sergeants and lieutenants, and asked the Red Cross to implement protocols so that the prisoners of war were handed over to a commission in which they welcomed members of the United Nations, the Venezuelan government and the rebel group.
Since March 21, within the framework of the so-called “Bolivarian Shield Operation”, the Venezuelan authorities have reported the death of 16 military personnel and at least nine “terrorists”.
During the operations, the dismantling of at least half a dozen camps was also announced. Weapons, grenades, explosives, military clothing, vehicles, drugs and technological equipment were seized.
The Tenth Martín Villa Front is headed by former members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), who refused to join a 2016 peace agreement that was signed with the Colombian government.
The front has not said what it is doing in Venezuela. He is part of a larger structure of dissidents led by Gentil Duarte, a former FARC leader.