Venezuela: Security forces clash with armed gangs
Venezuela, July 10: Venezuelan security forces moved into several poor neighborhoods of Caracas on Friday as part of an offensive against armed groups that control parts of the country's capital.
What do we know about the fighting?
Local media say at least a dozen people have died since fighting began on Wednesday.
Gangs from the southwestern Cota 905 neighborhood have attempted to expand their territory in Caracas in an uphill battle against the authorities. The gangs have reportedly acquired military equipment such as drones, grenades and assault rifles.
The government has vowed to continue the offensive until the gangs are pushed back. Around 800 members of the security forces are taking part in the operation against the gangs.
"The state security forces will remain in combat as long as necessary to liberate all the territories kidnapped by criminal gangs," Interior Minister Carmen Melendez tweeted Friday. "We have the morale, the professionals, the weapons, and the constitutional force to achieve this objective."
The Venezuelan government has offered a $500,000 (€420,000) reward for information regarding the location of gang leaders. One of the most notorious leaders of the Cota 905 gang is named Carlos Luis Revete, or "El Coqui."
Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro has claimed that the gangs are financed from outside the country, and believes it is a "plot" to destabilize the nation.
"The enemies of the homeland intend to sow anxiety through the financing of criminal gangs, we will not sit idly by," Maduro tweeted Friday. "We are acting forcefully, adhering to the laws."
NGOs call for deescalation
A group of 166 Venezuelan NGOs on Friday called for a deescalation of violence and criticized the government's heavy-handed tactics towards the armed groups. The statement was published by Venezuelan rights group PROVEA.
The NGOs expressed "deep concern for the lives and safety of their residents" in the neighborhoods affected by the violence and said the state must "comply with international obligations" regarding human rights.
The NGOs said "iron-fisted" policies by the government towards the criminals have only caused death and resulted in the gangs becoming stronger.
Venezuela is one of the most dangerous countries on the planet, and marked 12,000 violent deaths in 2020, according to the Venezuelan Violence Observatory.
The oil-rich nation has been embroiled in economic turmoil since 2013 and witnessed hyperinflation.
The country has been also experiencing an ongoing leadership crisis between Maduro and National Assembly President Juan Guaido since January 2019.