Colombian military chief says nearly 2,000 rebel fighters are in Venezuela: report

Colombian military chief says nearly 2,000 rebel fighters are in Venezuela: report
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There are around 1,900 Colombian rebel fighters working in Venezuela, Colombia’s military chief General Luis Fernando Navarro told Reuters Wednesday. 

Colombia has said for a while that Venezuela is harboring Colombian crime groups and criminals, but this is the first time a military commander has put a number on it. 

Navarro estimated the number of fighters from the Colombian rebel organization National Liberation Army (ELN) and FARC dissidents groups who are in Venezuela.

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"In total in the (Venezuelan) states of Zulia, Tachira, Apure and Amazonas, we calculate there could be between 1,100 and 1,200 criminals from the ELN and some 700 from the FARC dissidents," Navarro told Reuters.

"It's a factor of instability that the strategic rearguard of these structures is in Venezuelan border states. This obviously makes it difficult to combat them," he added. 

The groups will go to Colombia to attack then retreat to Venezuela for safety from authorities, according to Navarro. 

Navarro said the rebels stay in Venezuela to plan attacks and for drug trafficking efforts, which Colombia says Venezuela allows because it takes a part of the profits from cocaine trafficking. 

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has denied providing a safe haven to rebels while also welcoming certain fighters into the country. 

There are also some Venezuelans who joined the Colombian rebel groups, with at least 80 Venezuelans joining FARC dissidents groups and 180 joining ELN, according to Navarro.