CARACAS, Venezuela – Venezuela has nearly completed its deployment of thousands of troops to states along the border with Colombia, a top general said Wednesday.
"Between 85 and 90 percent of the troops are situated," Gen. Jesus Gonzalez Gonzalez told reporters at a news conference, saying soldiers were largely sent to the border states of Zulia, Tachira and Apure.
He said the movement of troops began Sunday, immediately after President Hugo Chavez ordered 10 battalions deployed to the border in response to a Colombian military strike that killed two dozen leftist rebels on Ecuadorean soil.
Those battalions sent to the border region included approximately 9,000 men, retired Gen. Alberto Muller Rojas, a former top aide to Chavez, told The Associated Press.
Chavez also dispatched tanks and ordered an air force deployment, but the military has been tightlipped about specifics of troop movements along the border, which runs 2,200 kilometers (1,370 miles), including stretches through mountains and thick jungle.
If necessary, Venezuela's military is "ready to defend the sacred sovereignty of the homeland," Defense Minister Gen. Gustavo Rangel Briceno said.
No major troop presence was seen by journalists at border crossings Wednesday. National Guard troops stood watch at the main border crossing in San Antonio as usual, as cars passed.
Venezuela's agriculture minister, Elias Jaua, said Tuesday that Venezuela had closed the border to imports and exports. And many trucks with Colombian imports lined up at major border crossings, unable to pass.
But Rangel said Wednesday that "we have received no order to close the border."
Hundreds of troops were seen on Tuesday boarding buses and trucks at the Paramaracay base in the central city of Valencia, headed for the border.
Ecuador has also sent troops to its border with Colombia, denouncing the weekend military strike in its territory as a violation of its sovereignty.