CARACAS (Reuters) – Two Venezuelan soldiers died over the weekend in clashes with “irregular Colombian armed groups” near the border in southwestern Apure state, Venezuela’s defense ministry said in a statement on Monday.

The two South American countries share a 2,000-km (1,240-mile) border that for years has been a hotbed for smuggling and drug trafficking. The ministry said Venezuelan soldiers had captured 32 individuals, destroyed six encampments, and seized arms, munitions, vehicles and drugs.

The ministry said the military would continue to carry out operations in the area, without providing details.

Colombian President Ivan Duque accuses socialist Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro of harboring leftist Colombian guerrillas, including the National Liberation Army (ELN) and dissident members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) who do not recognize a 2016 peace deal.

Maduro denies providing safe haven to the guerrillas and frequently accuses Colombian drug trafficking groups of seeking to destabilize his government.

The ministry said soldiers had “neutralized” the head of one such group, known by the alias El Nando, without providing further details about which groups the military had been fighting.

Colombia’s defense ministry declined to comment.

The two dead soldiers were army Major Edward Corobo and army Lieutenant Yonathan Duarte, the ministry said, adding that many other soldiers were wounded.

Reporting by Vivian Sequera in Caracas; Additional reporting by Oliver Griffin in Bogota; Writing by Luc Cohen

Source: Reuters