Colombia ready to defend against Venezuela "threats": minister

Colombia's Foreign Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo, pictured in April 2019, said that authorities in his country "will not give in to provocation" (AFP Photo/Juan BARRETO)

Bogota (AFP) - Colombia is "ready" to defend itself against threats from Venezuela, after that country's president accused Bogota of seeking to provoke military conflict, a minister said Wednesday.

Faced with "threats" from Caracas, "Colombian authorities will not give in to provocation, but are ready to protect the sovereignty and peace of Colombians," Foreign Affairs Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo said in an audio statement sent to media outlets.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Tuesday accused the Colombian government of using dissident FARC leaders' rejection of a peace accord to try to "provoke a military conflict" with Venezuela, the latest blow to highly tense relations between the neighboring South American nations.

The dispute between the two presidents comes after FARC leaders last week formally rejected a 2016 peace deal and announced a return to arms, prompting a pledge from right-wing Colombian President Ivan Duque to hunt down the dissidents while accusing Maduro of providing them "shelter and support."

Caracas has rejected the accusations.

"Not only has the Colombian government engaged Colombia in a worsening war, but it is using unfounded accusations to threaten Venezuela and provoke a military conflict with our country," Maduro said during a military ceremony in Caracas.

He added he was placing military units deployed along the 1,400 mile (2,250 kilometer) border with Colombia on high alert, due to Colombia's "threat of aggression against Venezuela."

Maduro also said that military exercises would take place along the border from September 10 to 28, to "bring the armed system and the entire operational deployment into full readiness."

Colombia, along with the United States and more than 50 other countries, in January recognized Venezuela's opposition leader Juan Guaido as the country's interim president and have continued to call on Maduro to step down.

Earlier Tuesday, Guaido offered to help Colombia track down the dissident FARC rebels.