Venezuela closed a major border with Colombia late Wednesday hours after three of its soldiers on an anti-smuggling operation were attacked. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closing of the border in western Tachira state for 72 hours.
Tachira's state government supported the temporary closure of the border, according to TeleSur, a Latin American television network in Venezuela. Maduro asked Colombia to cooperate in putting an end to cross-border crime and said that his government would take tough measures on armed groups.
Maduro said that unidentified attackers shot two lieutenants and a captain and fled on motorcycles, the Associated Press (AP) reported. The 52-year-old president blamed smugglers and paramilitaries allegedly associated with former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe for the ongoing border trouble.
"They [soldiers] were ambushed by two motorcyclists that we're now looking for, even underneath the rocks," Maduro reportedly said.
The Venezuelan government this year deployed more troops and stiffened jail sentences for those caught smuggling in order to tackle contraband. It has also started a fingerprint-scanning system to limit the amount of any single item shoppers can buy, the AP reported.
The government reportedly said that it arrested 6,000 people and seized more than 28,000 tons of food last year in anti-smuggling operations.
However, opponents have remained skeptic about the steps taken by the government, and blame price and currency controls in the country for the rising number of smuggling cases. They maintain that goods are bought at cheap rates in Venezuela and sold for huge profits in Colombia.