Colombia’s foreign minister condemned an alleged plot to kill President Ivan Duque on Saturday and said three Venezuelan citizens had been arrested in possession of weapons.
“With immense concern and the utmost condemnation, I want to inform the international community that, in effect, for several months, there have been intelligence probes into possible attacks against the life of the president,” Carlos Holmes Trujillo said in a video posted on the ministry’s social media accounts.
He added without elaborating that three Venezuelans in possession of “weapons of war” had been arrested in connection with such plots and appealed to Colombians to share any information they have that could affect Duque’s safety, before thanking unnamed foreign intelligence agencies for helping to protect the president.
In a separate statement, Trujillo said that the threats came from “internal and external actors.”
Blu Radio, based in the Colombian capital, Bogota, reported that the Venezuelans were arrested in the northern Caribbean cities of Valledupar and Barranquilla this month and had in their possession an assault rifle with a telescopic sight, a 9mm mini-Uzi submachine gun, ammunition and a stun grenade.
Citing sources it did not identify, Blu said any alleged plot would have likely had the support of Colombian left-wing armed groups, whom Duque has vowed to clamp down on.
The announcements came amid heightened tensions between the two neighbours following the mutual expulsion of officials from both countries and the presence earlier this month of Russian long-range bombers in Venezuela.
Duque – Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s harshest regional critic – has urged “countries that defend democracy” not to recognise Maduro’s government, which he calls a “dictatorship”.
It is the first time ICC member countries have asked for a probe into a fellow member. The investigation was initially proposed by Argentina, Colombia, Chile, Paraguay and Peru, with Canada and France later adding their support.
Maduro, who has not commented publicly on the arrests, will begin his second six-year term on January 10 after winning a controversial election in May, which was slammed as illegitimate by political opponents, the European Union, the United States and the majority of Latin America.
He has previously accused Colombia, the US and the incoming government of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil of plotting a coup in Venezuela and seeking to assassinate him, he has also called Duque a “devil who hates Venezuela”.
In September, the New York Times reported that Trump administration officials had held secret meetings with Venezuelan military officers to discuss plans to overthrow Maduro. Trump had said that month that “all options are on the table” for dealing with Maduro.
Duque’s government, however, has refused to back a military intervention in Venezuela, with which it shares a 2,220km border.
Colombia is the main destination for Venezuelan migrants and refugees, having accepted more than one million people fleeing food and medicine shortages and a spiralling economic crisis.
According to the United Nations, about 2.3 million people have left Venezuela since the crisis began in 2015.