CARACAS, April 26 (Reuters) – Venezuela’s armed forces suffered deaths and injuries in confrontations with “irregular Colombian armed groups” in the western border state of Apure in the past 72 hours, Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino said on Monday.

Padrino in a statement did not specify the number of casualties from the fighting, which he said took place in sparsely populated areas west of the border town of La Victoria.

A previous outbreak of fighting in the area in late March prompted thousands of Venezuelan civilians to flee across the border into Colombia.

In early April, Padrino announced the arrests of 33 people, along with eight deaths and 34 injuries of Venezuelan soldiers.

Padrino on Monday said Venezuela had made arrests and “inflicted a significant number of casualties” among the ranks of the Colombian groups, which he did not name. He accused the groups of seeking to “export their narco-paramilitary model to our country” and generate instability.

Colombia and the Venezuelan opposition accuse Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro of harboring members of the National Liberation Army (ELN), as well as dissident members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) who have disavowed a 2016 peace deal that ended decades of civil war between the FARC and Colombia.

They said the recent fighting shows that Venezuela has become embroiled in conflicts between disparate groups.

Human Rights Watch on Monday said Venezuelan forces had committed “egregious abuses” against residents as part of the campaign, including the execution of at least four people, arbitrary arrests, and the torture of residents accused of collaborating with armed groups.

Venezuela’s information ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the Human Rights Watch report. (Reporting by Luc Cohen and Vivian Sequera in Caracas; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

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