Venezuela asks Brazil to turn over ‘deserters’ suspected of raid

FILE - In this Jan. 10, 2019, file photo, Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro holds up a small copy of the constitution as he speaks during his swearing-in ceremony at the Supreme Court in Caracas, Venezuela. The coalition of Latin American governments that joined the U.S. in quickly recognizing opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s interim president, and not Maduro, came together during weeks of secret diplomacy. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos, File)

Venezuela on Saturday asked Brazil to hand over five military “deserters” who are suspected of involvement in a raid on a remote military outpost in southern Venezuela last weekend, officials said.

Separately Brazil’s government said in a statement it was processing asylum claims from five deserting Venezuelan soldiers it had picked up earlier in the week. The government did not mention the Dec. 22 raid, but a Brazilian military source said the soldiers were suspected of involvement in the attack.

One Venezuelan soldier died in the attack on the garrison in Bolivar state, near the Brazil border. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said three suspects were detained on Saturday, after several arrests last week, and that the government recovered 111 of the 120 rifles and eight of the nine grenade launchers that were stolen.

Maduro initially accused Colombia, Peru and Brazil – all governed by fierce critics of his socialist government – of complicity with the attack, which all three countries denied. But he said on Saturday he expected Brazil would hand the five suspects over to “comply with international law.”

“A military deserter who enters another country and is detained should be handed over immediately,” Maduro said in a state television address. “Sooner rather than later, these terrorists will be in the hands of Venezuelan justice.”

Venezuela is undergoing a deep economic crisis marked by high inflation, rolling blackouts and rising child malnutrition.

The government last week said it had detained a former national guard member in connection with the raid, who was among hundreds of soldiers who deserted to Colombia earlier this year during a failed effort by the opposition to bring in humanitarian aid. Some of those soldiers have said they are prepared to take up arms to bring down Maduro.

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