GUASIPATI, Venezuela (Reuters) - Soldiers clashed with illegal miners in southern Venezuela on the weekend, killing 18 people in a region notorious for violence and gang rivalries, local media said.
Bolivar state Governor Justo Noguera confirmed a military unit had fought off an attack. "I can't give numbers because an investigation is under way," he told reporters.
Local newspaper Correo del Caroni reported that 17 men and one woman died in the incident on Saturday morning.
Clashes over illegal mines are common in the remote, mineral-rich area near the border of Guyana, with at least 17 people killed in a gang feud there in 2016.
That year, President Nicolas Maduro declared the area a strategic priority, naming it the Mining Arc and declaring war on the hundreds of illegal miners from Venezuela and neighboring Brazil who try to make a living there.
Local media said the army captured guns and explosives during Saturday's operation.
(Reporting by William Urdaneta and Carlos Suniaga in El Callao, Venezuela, and Ana Isabel Martinez in Caracas; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Peter Cooney)