Venezuela, Colombia to increase military presence along shared border

FILE PHOTO: Colombia's President-elect Petro eyes opening border with Venezuela
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CARACAS/BOGOTA (Reuters) - Venezuela and Colombia will boost the number of troops stationed along its shared border at informal crossings where armed criminal groups linked to drug trafficking often operate, the defense ministers of the two countries said on Thursday.

The ministers met in Caracas to discuss the security threat from the groups "who cross the border and carry out criminal activity in both Venezuelan and Colombian territory," Colombian Defense Minister Ivan Velasquez said on a Venezuelan state television broadcast.

The officials did not specify how many troops would be sent to the border, nor when. The border runs for some 2,200 kilometers (1,400 miles), much of it through remote jungle.

Velasquez also discussed the Colombian government's efforts to "hit criminal groups' finances with the maximum force possible" as a way of weakening them, he said.

Venezuela and Colombia reestablished relations last August after Colombian President Gustavo Petro, a leftist, came into office.

Venezuelan Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino said the two countries had worked to "create confidence little by little, even though the process was going to be a bit torturous."

Prior to Petro taking office, relations were frosty, with the two countries' governments trading accusations of meddling in each other's affairs.

Bogota had said Caracas backed guerrillas and drug traffickers operating in Colombia, while Venezuela accused Colombia of supporting armed insurgents who were planning to overthrow President Nicolas Maduro.

(Reporting by Vivian Sequera and Mayela Armas in Caracas and Luis Jaime Acosta in Bogota; Writing by Kylie Madry; Editing by Rosalba O'Brien)