Venezuelan officials confirmed Friday that one of the country’s military aircraft shot down a small civilian plane that was carrying drugs and ignored communications. The U.S-licensed plane crashed a day earlier near the island of Aruba, which is about 20 miles off Venezuela’s Caribbean coast.
“It didn’t obey orders, and it was annulled 25 nautical miles northeast of the Josefa Camejo [military] base, that is to say, in our territorial waters,” Venezuela’s Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino told reporters, according to Reuters.
“Some are saying we violated international air space. No. All military actions are taken in our geographical space to exercise sovereignty and independence under the constitution,” he said, but gave no further details.
The Associated Press reported 400 packages holding cocaine and some human remains were found by Aruban authorities near the crash site, although it was too early to determine how many were killed.
In the past few years, Venezuela has become a major transport hub for drugs from Colombia to the U.S., American officials told the New York Times.
In 2013, Venezuelan authorities approved a law that allows military planes to shoot down illegal aircraft, in an attempt to help quell the smuggling trade, BBC News reported at the time.