Sunday, March 30, 2003 7:51PM EST
Venezuela fires on Colombian paramilitaries
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) - Venezuela's military exchanged gunfire with Colombian paramilitaries and bombed a zone close to the border as a warning to the fighters, President Hugo Chavez said Sunday.
During his weekly TV program, Chavez said Colombian paramilitaries recently "invaded Venezuelan territory" and fired on an army patrol surveying the border area, hitting their helicopter.
A 90-minute gun battle ensued and the assailants ran back to Colombia.
Chavez also said armed forces recently dropped bombs near where Colombian paramilitaries were hiding.
"I said to bomb the area, not on direct targets but over the adjacent area so as to warn them and establish a security cordon," Chavez said. "We did it, it was effective, and they withdrew toward Colombian territory."
Chavez has been criticized for not doing to enough to defend the 1,370-mile border with Colombia, where a civil war has raged for 38 years, pitting leftist rebels against government troops. In recent years, the right-wing paramilitary fighters have joined the fray against the rebels.
Tensions also have mounted between the two countries over allegations that Venezuela's left-wing government supports Colombian guerrillas