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Scores of Venezuelan soldiers desert posts amid tensions

Venezuelan national guard members are seen at the border with Venezuela, seen from in Pacaraima, Brazil February 24, 2019.
Venezuelan national guard members are seen at the border with Venezuela, seen from in Pacaraima, Brazil February 24, 2019. REUTERS/Bruno Kelly

More than one hundred Venezuelan soldiers have defected to Colombia, whilst two of them have sought refuge in Brazil, Bogoto and Rio De Janeiro's migration services said Sunday. The defections come after fatal clashes on the Colombian border, which UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres says he's "shocked" by.


"Currently, we have welcomed over one hundred members of Venezuela's National Guard," Colombia's migration agency said in a press release Sunday.

The soldiers, whose rank is unknown, crossed the border and sought the protection of authorities in Cucuta on Saturday.

A similar scenario played out in Brazil where two soldiers also sought refuge.

Feres Kanaan, a member of Rio De Janeiro's migration service told AFP he was manning a welcoming post for Venezuelan migrants in Pacaraima on Brazil's border with its northwestern neighbor when the two soldiers "presented themselves asking for asylum."

Opposition leader Juan Guaido-- who most Western nations recognize as Venezuela’s legitimate leader--has offered amnesty to all military personnel who "protect the Venezuelan people" and align with the opposition in its bid to force President Nicolas Maduro from power.

The first defections occured early on Saturday morning before Guaido gave a personal send-off to a convoy carrying US aid departing from the Colombian city of Cucuta.

Days numbered

The opposition says the foreign humanitarian assistance is desperately needed to tackle widespread food and medicine shortages in crisis-hit Venezuela.

But President Nicolas Maduro claims the aid is a smokescreen for a US invasion, and ordered security forces to halt the convoys. They used tear gas and rubber bullets, killing two people.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Sunday he was "shocked and saddened" by the civilian deaths and has appealed for calm.

Maduro has since ordered several crossings on Venezuela's borders with Colombia and Brazil to be shut.

However, his "days are numbered," US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said confidently on Sunday, blaming the border violence on armed loyalists known as "colectivos."

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