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Venezuela captures 39 army 'deserters' over Maduro plot: minister

In this photo released by the Venezuelan Presidency, Nicolas Maduro speaks during a televised address on May 9, 2020 to announce new arrests related to an alleged bid to topple him
In this photo released by the Venezuelan Presidency, Nicolas Maduro speaks during a televised address on May 9, 2020 to announce new arrests related to an alleged bid to topple him Marcelo GARCIA Venezuelan Presidency/AFP
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Caracas (AFP)

Venezuela announced Thursday that its troops had captured 39 army deserters on the Colombian border, saying they were part of a recently derailed plot to overthrow President Nicolas Maduro.

"We have captured 39 deserters trying to enter by the Colombian border," Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino told state television.

Padrino said those arrested were "part of the general scheme" to overthrow Maduro, linking them to a failed sea-borne raid two weeks ago that Caracas said was backed by the United States and Colombia.

Thursday's arrests bring to 91 the number of people detained in what Venezuela said was a botched incursion.

The raid -- which Maduro alleged on Wednesday had been planned in the White House -- saw men landing in early May at Macuto, less than an hour from Caracas.

Eight attackers were reportedly killed in the incident.

Among the detainees are two former US soldiers, Luke Denman, 34, and Airan Berry, 41, who have been imprisoned and charged with "terrorism, conspiracy, illicit trafficking of weapons of war and (criminal) association." They could face between 25 to 30 years in prison.

The others implicated in the case are Venezuelans.

The left-wing Maduro government claims the plan was to remove him from power and allow opposition leader Juan Guaido -- recognized as the interim president by the United States and 50 other nations -- to take control.

Padrino did not provide further details about the alleged "deserters" arrested Thursday, or explain why they would have tried to enter Venezuela by land almost two weeks after the failed sea incursion.

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