Venezuelan soldiers dynamited two small pedestrian bridges crossing the border between their country and Colombia, amid a tense diplomatic stand-off between Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez (pictured) and his Colombian counterpart Alvaro Uribe.
REUTERS - Colombia's government said on Thursday Venezuelan soldiers had blown up two small pedestrian bridges that stretch across their border in the latest incident to stoke a diplomatic dispute between the Andean neighbors.
Colombian Defense Minister Gabriel Silva said uniformed troops from the Venezuelan army dynamited the bridges that cross into Colombia's Norte de Santander department in what he criticized as a violation of international law.
"Uniformed men, apparently from the Venezuelan army, arrived in trucks on the Venezuelan side at two pedestrian bridges that link communities on both sides ... and then proceeded to dynamite them," Silva said.
But Venezuelan authorities said the army had destroyed an illegal, improvised bridge spanning the border.
"The Venezuelan army took down a sort of walkway, put up by the people who pass from Venezuela to Colombia," said Alexis Balza, frontier director for Tachira State governor's office.
The long-simmering Andean spat has been mostly limited to diplomatic barbs in the past. But the current crisis is raising the risk of more violence along the volatile frontier where rebels, drug gangs and and smugglers operate.
Tensions are high between U.S. ally Colombia and Venezuela over a Colombian plan to allow the United States more access to its military bases as part of anti-drug and counter-insurgency cooperation against FARC rebels.
Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, a fierce U.S. adversary, has sent more troops to the border and told his military commanders to "prepare for war" because he says the U.S. base plan could be used to stage an invasion of his OPEC nation.
Colombia's President Alvaro Uribe counters the base deal is just an extension of current cooperation with U.S. troops. But he has urged the United Nations and the Organization of American States to investigate Chavez's "war threats".
The two leaders have in the past managed to work out their differences. But the current crisis is already cutting into their $7 billion annual bilateral trade, making this dispute harder to resolve.
Most analysts say Chavez may be looking to gain politically by stirring up tensions as a way to distract from domestic troubles, such as power and water shortages that are threatening to dent his popularity.
Colombia's four-decade guerrilla war often spills over the frontier, where killings and kidnapping are common. Chavez accuses Colombia of not protecting its border while Colombian officials charge him with backing Colombia's FARC rebels.