Colombia to protest Venezuela for military flyover

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 13, 2015 12:24 PM

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia's government will formally protest and seek an explanation from Venezuela after detecting two military airplanes that flew into its airspace late on Saturday, President Juan Manuel Santos said.

The two aircraft entered Colombia's northern La Guajira province without permission, flew about 2.9 kilometers (1.8 miles) over the border and then circled above a military unit, Colombia's Defense Ministry said in a statement on Sunday.

"I have ordered the Foreign Ministry and Defense Ministry to present a formal protest tomorrow to Venezuela for violation of our airspace," Santos said on Twitter.

The incident comes amid a diplomatic row between the conservative administration of Santos in Colombia and the socialist government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

Maduro closed several major border crossings and deported 1,300 Colombians last month in what he said was a crackdown on smuggling and crime.

As many as 16,000 Colombians have left neighboring Venezuela, according to the United Nations.

Maduro says he is protecting his country from criminals who smuggle everything from gasoline to flour across the border but his political opponents say he is using Colombians as scapegoats to distract from Venezuela's economic crisis.

Colombians were made to leave their homes in several Venezuelan border towns and forced in many cases to cross rivers and bridges with their belongings on their backs.

Foreign ministers from the two nations met on Saturday in Ecuador to try and smooth the way for the two leaders to meet and resolve the spat.

Santos has blamed the border crisis on Maduro and said last week that Venezuela's socialist revolution had failed.

Venezuelan officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

(Reporting by Helen Murphy; Editing by William Hardy and Bill Trott)