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Tension In Venezuela-Colombia Border After Deportations

Venezuelan security forces have deported hundreds of Colombians as part of a security offensive along the border that is ratcheting up tensions.

Venezuela has deported hundreds of Colombians as part of a security offensive along the border that is causing tensions between the two neighboring countries.

More than one thousand Colombians who had been living in Venezuela illegally were handed over to Colombian authorities, according to Gov. Jose Gregorio Vielma Mora of Tachira state. Venezuela says this is a crackdown against smugglers and criminal gangs operating along the border.

Last week Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro closed a major crossing and declared a state of emergency in several western cities after three army officers were shot and wounded by gunmen he said belonged to paramilitary gangs operating from Colombia.

The gunmen have not been caught or identified, but the incident touched a nerve with supporters of Maduro's administration, who increasingly have placed blame for rampant crime and widespread shortages on Colombians.

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Venezuela has added about 1,500 extra troops to the border area to do house by house searches looking for smugglers who buy goods at low prices in Venezuela and resell them across the border for big profits.

Former Venezuelan ambassador and current Colombian Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin, went to the border Monday to supervise humanitarian efforts amid reports from deportees that families had been broken up and their homes bulldozed as part of the dragnet.

"We're convinced that closing the border isn't how we fight contraband," Holguin said.

Vielma Mora, the Venezuelan governor, denied reports of abuses, which The Associated Press was unable to verify. He said all those deported were treated with respect.

A Colombian official who spoke on condition of anonymity said the situation was tense but there was little to suggest that Venezuela had violated international conventions in its treatment of detainees.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said Maduro's action would hurt communities on both sides of the border and generate unease. An estimated 5 million Colombians live in Venezuela, many of them without permission, and the flow of people and goods across the border has been a fixture of daily life for decades, changing direction with the shifting fortunes of each nation's economy.

Foreign ministers from both countries were expected to meet Wednesday in a bid to resolve the crisis. The Secretary General of the Organization of American States has also called for direct dialogue.

Opponents of Maduro's administration have denounced the mobilization of troops as an attempt to distract attention from a deep economic crisis.