Will Maduro target families of soldier defectors? Troops say they fear for relatives’ safety after 100 deserters flee to Colombia following deadly humanitarian aid clashes

Monday, February 25, 2019
By Paul Martin

More than 100 government troops abandoned posts and fled to Colombia amid weekend clashes in Venezuela
There are concerns among some of those who lay down their weapons that their families could face reprisals
International pressure building on Nicolas Maduro after violent clashes over humanitarian aid left four dead
Venezuelan leader was called a ‘sick tyrant’ and told his ‘days are numbered’ by US after aid trucks set on fire

25 February 2019

Venezuelan soldiers defecting from President Nicolas Maduro’s army now fear for the safety of their families, it has been revealed.

More than 100 government troops abandoned their posts and fled to neighbouring Colombia amid deadly clashes over humanitarian aid in the crisis-hit country over the weekend.

The defections came as opposition leader and self-proclaimed interim president Juan Guaido called on the military to abandon Maduro and help him bring in desperately needed aid and alleviate shortages of food and medicine.

But there are now concerns among some of those who did lay down their weapons that their families could face reprisals.

One 23-year-old soldier told the BBC that he feared forces loyal to the president may now ‘lash out against my family’ but added; ‘I think it was the best decision I could have made.’

International pressure is mounting on Maduro after fierce confrontations erupted along the southern border with Brazil and western parts near Colombia with reports of aid trucks being burned and civilians being shot with live ammunition, rubber bullets and tear gas.

At least four people were killed, including a 14-year-old boy, and nearly 300 injured as protesters clashed with police preventing vital supplies getting into Venezuela near the Brazilian border this weekend.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted that Maduro’s ‘days are numbered’, adding: ‘We denounce Maduro’s refusal to let humanitarian assistance reach #Venezuela. What kind of a sick tyrant stops food from getting to hungry people? The images of burning trucks filled with aid are sickening.’

Guaido visited one of the flashpoints of the violence – the Tienditas bridge which links Colombia to Venezuela – and called on government soldiers to abandon their posts and let aid through.

Standing on the Colombian side yesterday, the opposition leader said any troops who defected would be given amnesty because they had aligned themselves with the ‘right side of history’.

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