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Venezuela Congress Takes Up Case of 28 Missing Miners

CARACAS, Venezuela -- Opposition politicians on Tuesday are putting more pressure on Venezuela's government to increase search efforts in order to determine what happened to a group of 28 missing miners who were allegedly killed by gang members.

More than 1,000 soldiers fanned out across the southeastern jungle state of Bolivar to search for the miners. Relatives say their bodies were dismembered and hidden by a gang seeking to take over a disputed gold claim.

Image: Americo De Grazia, deputy of Venezuelan coalition of opposition parties (MUD), speaks during a session of Venezuela's National Assembly in Caracas
Americo De Grazia (Front), deputy of Venezuelan coalition of opposition parties (MUD), speaks during a session of Venezuela's National Assembly in Caracas March 8, 2016. STRINGER / Reuters

The country's opposition-controlled Congress planned to discuss later Tuesday whether state agents might have been involved in the disappearances.

Families and people who said they witnessed the attack accused law enforcement agents of participating. Lawmaker Americo de Grazia said that given the number of missing miners, the reported atrocity could have taken place only with the complicity of local officials.

Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez denied these claims.

"We know very well who is behind these accusations, and we won't fall for the provocations of the old political establishment," he said. "We won't rest until we know everything about incident, which is abhorrent to all Venezuelans."

Banner with the photos of the 28 missing Venezuelan miners.
A banner with photos of several missing miners hangs on a tree near Tumeremo, Venezuela, Tuesday, March 8, 2016. Demonstrators are blocking the main road that connects Venezuela and Brazil in protest against the disappearance of 28 miners who relatives say were dismembered and disappeared by a gang seeking to take over a disputed gold claim. More than 1,000 soldiers have fanned out across the southeastern jungle state of Bolivar to search for the them. The banner reads in Spanish "Justice for our loved ones. We have hope." Fabiola Ferrero / AP

Bolivar state Gov. Francisco Rangel, a staunch ally of Venezuela's governing socialist administration, has said there is still no proof a massacre occurred.

Local media quoted people involved with the case as saying they feared for their safety, pointing to the military taking control of their small town and voicing concerns that gang members might be seeking to quiet them.

The public prosecutor's office is investigating, and has taken protective measures for two miners' relatives.

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