Colombia accuses Venezuela of new airspace violation

A picture released by the Colombian Defence Ministry press office shows Colombian Air Force commander Carlos Bueno speaking during a press conference in Bogota, September 14, 2015 (AFP Photo/Javier Casella)

Bogota (AFP) - Colombia accused Venezuela Monday of violating its airspace for the second time in two days amid a smoldering border crisis, saying a warplane had again flown well into its territory.

"A Venezuelan military plane penetrated Colombian airspace" Sunday night in the northeastern department of Vichada, Colombian air force commander Carlos Bueno told a news conference.

The accusation came after Colombia said two Venezuelan warplanes crossed its northern border on Saturday -- a claim Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez dismissed as "an invention."

The two countries have been at odds since Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro closed part of the border on August 19, blaming Colombian paramilitaries for an attack on a Venezuelan anti-smuggling patrol.

Maduro accused Colombia of waging an "attack on Venezuela's economy," a reference to the rampant smuggling of heavily subsidized goods and fuel out of the oil-rich but shortage-hit socialist country.

The two countries, which recalled their ambassadors on August 27, agreed Saturday to resume diplomatic contacts.

But tensions have escalated again with the accusations of Venezuelan encroachments into Colombian air space.

In the latest incident, the plane flew 10 kilometers (six miles) into Colombian airspace, then did a sharp turn and returned to Venezuela, Bueno said.

He did not specify what the aircraft was but said that "given the speed registered on the radar, it was a high-performance plane."

He said Colombian air force officers had contacted their Venezuelan counterparts, who told them the plane had diverted from its course due to bad weather.

But no authorization was requested, in violation of the terms of a bilateral agreement, he said.

In Saturday's incident, Colombia says two Venezuelan warplanes crossed nearly three kilometers into Colombian airspace and flew over an army unit.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos later said he had ordered his foreign and defense ministries to lodge a formal complaint with the Venezuelan government.

The Venezuelan foreign minister, however, said there was "no evidence" of an incursion Saturday and accused Santos of trying to get out of a proposed presidential sit-down with Maduro to discuss the crisis.

Since the row began, Venezuela has deported some 1,500 Colombian nationals and more than 18,500 others have fled in fear, according to the United Nations.