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article imageColombian leader says Venezuela trying to acquire Iran missiles

By AFP     Aug 20, 2020 in World

Colombia's President Ivan Duque claimed Thursday that the government of President Nicolas Maduro in neighboring Venezuela was working to acquire missiles from its ally Iran.

"There is information from international intelligence agencies which work with us showing that there is an interest from the dictatorship of Nicolas Maduro to acquire some medium- and long-range missiles through Iran," the right-wing Colombian leader said.

According to Duque, the missiles "have not yet arrived" in Venezuela, but the country's Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino had been put in charge of Venezuela's "approaches" to Iran over acquiring the weapons.

Colombia and Venezuela share a porous 2,200 kilometer (1,400-mile) border where cocaine-, arms- and fuel-trafficking gangs have traditionally operated. The neighbors broke off diplomatic relations in 2019.

Duque has backed a US diplomatic and economic offensive against the government of Maduro -- whom it does not recognize as president, having deemed his 2019 re-election to be fraudulent.

Colombia, the United States and more than 50 other countries have instead recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido as interim president, though Maduro continues to hold the reins of power.

Maduro's beleaguered Socialist government turned to Iran earlier this year to help alleviate a desperate fuel shortage after the collapse of its oil industry in the midst of an economic crisis exacerbated by US sanctions.

Iran dispatched several fuel tankers to Venezuela this year to help it solve the shortage.

The Colombian president also blamed Venezuelan authorities for sheltering armed drug-trafficking groups responsible for the murders of human rights activists.

Duque said there was an international campaign to supply arms to irregular groups that operate in the border area of both countries, aiming to destabilize the government in Bogota.

"We have intelligence information that there are members of the Venezuelan guard who are triangulating arms from other countries, particularly Russia and Belarus, to these structures in the border areas," said Duque.

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