CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela’s military said it seized three abandoned Colombian light combat vessels that soldiers found on Saturday while patrolling the Orinoco river, several days after the government accused its neighbor of aiding a failed invasion.
In a statement, the Defense Ministry said the boats were equipped with machine guns and ammunition, but had no crew, adding they were discovered as part of a nationwide operation to guarantee Venezuela’s “freedom and sovereignty.”
According to a preliminary investigation the boats were dragged away by strong river currents, Colombia’s Navy said in a statement.
Colombia’s Navy said it is talking with its counterparts in Venezuela to recover the boats.
In televised comments Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said the military would return the boats if the Colombian government made an official request for them.
Venezuela will make an official complaint to the United Nations accusing Colombia and the United States of violating international law for the failed invasion attempt, Maduro added.
On Wednesday, Venezuelan state television broadcast an interrogation video of a former U.S. soldier, in which he said a Florida security firm had hired him to train dissident Venezuelan troops in Colombia for an operation to seize control of Caracas’ airport and capture Maduro.
Authorities said they arrested the man, Luke Denman, along with a second U.S. citizen and 11 others, as they attempted to enter Venezuela by boat on Monday from Colombia. The government said a separate raid attempt the day before left eight people dead.
Maduro on Wednesday accused Colombian President Ivan Duque of enabling the operation, which Duque denied.
Reporting by Corina Pons and Angus Berwick; Additional reporting by Oliver Griffin in Bogota; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Chris Reese