Venezuela’s defense minister announced plans to post 15,000 troops to fight drug trafficking and armed groups on the borders with Colombia, Brazil and Guyana, in a speech following the murder of two soldiers on the Colombian border.

Defense Minister Henry Rangel Silva said that 2,000 troops were sent to the western state of Tachira, next to Colombia, after the murder of two soldiers there on March 10. The troops are charged with carrying out intelligence work, as part of the ongoing “Operacion Centinela” (Operation Sentinel), which aims to reinforce border security.

Rangel announced the deployment on a visit to Rubio, in Tachira. He said that another 13,000 soldiers would be deployed to other parts of Venezuela’s borders.

He also said that 17 people had been arrested in connection with the murders, 14 of them Colombian, and three Venezuelan.

InSight Crime Analysis

There are various armed groups present on the country’s 2,000 km border with Colombia, including Colombian rebel groups the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the National Liberation Army (ELN), and the Urabeños drug gang. The frontier is a key point for cocaine trafficking; as InSight Crime has noted, Venezuela has become the principal transit point for Colombian cocaine, with an estimated 200 tons moving through the country each year.

It is not known why the soldiers were killed. Rangel said the deaths did not take place during an army confrontation with armed groups, and that the dead men were dressed in civilian clothes. One of those arrested over the case has been identified as Colombian national Edgardo Andrade Dussan Carvajal, alias “Tato,” who Rangel said was a known drug trafficker. One Venezuelan congressman has claimed that the soldiers were killed by the ELN.