Venezuelan military plane crashes on Colombia border

Venezuelan military planeA Venezuelan military plane crashed on the border with Colombia during an operation to intercept an “illicit aircraft,” with the fate of the two pilots unknown, the government said Friday.

The two countries have been locked in a border conflict for a month, after Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of part of the frontier, saying some of his military were attacked during an anti-smuggling operation by Colombian paramilitaries.

Ahead of Friday’s crash, the Venezuelan plane was chasing an “illicit aircraft that entered the northwestern part of the country (Venezuela) headed south toward the border with Colombia,” Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez said in a statement.

He said “gangs in the area are trying to use our territory to traffic drugs produced in Colombia to Central America and the Caribbean.”

Lopez’s ministry said it was launching a search for the pilots and was investigating the causes of the accident.

In a tweet, Maduro expressed “all the support and solidarity of the country for the Bolivarian Military Aviation, lift up the morale and continue the fight.”

Venezuela has stepped up its military presence over the past month.

Maduro has also ordered the deportation of some 1,500 Colombians, while about 20,000 others have fled out of fear of being expelled, unleashing a major diplomatic crisis.

Maduro and his Colombian counterpart Juan Manuel Santos will meet in Quito on Monday to try to resolve the border conflict.

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