Venezuela army hunts rebels behind raid on military base

Caracas (AFP) – Venezuela’s top military brass appeared on state TV late Monday to show support for President Nicolas Maduro, as the government hunts for leaders of uniformed rebels who raided an army base and made off with weapons.

Surrounded by three tanks with raised barrels and hundreds of soldiers, the defense minister and head of the armed forces, General Vladimir Padrino, insisted that the armed forces were “united and with very high morale.”

Padrino gave an updated report on Sunday’s attack on the base in the northwestern city of Valencia by 20 men in uniform, an incident that fueled fears the country’s worsening crisis could tip into armed conflict.

Padrino said that ex-National Guard captain, Juan Carlos Caguaripano, and a former lieutenant, Jefferson Gabriel Garcia, were behind the raid. He said that two attackers died and three soldiers were wounded.

Padrino insisted that it was a “terrorist attack” carried out by some 20 “mercenaries paid from Miami by far right-wing groups.”

Eight men were detained following three hours of combat, he said.

Just before the raid, Caguaripano posted a video online declaring it part of a “legitimate rebellion… to reject the murderous tyranny” of president Maduro.

Appearing with more than a dozen uniformed men, some armed, Caguaripano demanded a transitional government and “free elections.”

Maduro said on state television Sunday that the attack saw a three-hour firefight in which two of the rebels died and eight were captured, including another lieutenant who was involved.

Ten other attackers made off with an unspecified arsenal.

Padrino said that a “special operation” has been deployed to capture them and recover the weapons.

He said Garcia had been in charge of the base’s weapons depot and acted as an accomplice from the inside, while Caguaripano had been discharged from the army in 2014 after multiple disciplinary offenses.

– “Growing discontent” –

The opposition coalition, the Democratic Unity Roundtable, said the country’s crisis dividing Venezuela’s society “is being seen… in the barracks of our armed forces.”

The head of the opposition-controlled congress, Julio Borges, has demanded the “truth” from the government about what happened on Sunday.

Analysts said discord could be seen in the lower ranks of the security forces.

“There are indications of growing discontent in the middle ranks of the police and soldiers, even though military commanders remain allied to the government,” said Diego Moya-Ocampos, of IHS…

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