Venezuela, in spat with Colombia, nabs 32 paramilitaries

Colombians leaving Venezuela are helped by Colombian policemen and soldiers as they cross the bordering Tachira River to Cucuta, Colombia, on August 28, 2015 (AFP Photo/George Castellanos)

Caracas (AFP) - Venezuela has arrested 32 alleged paramilitaries leading smuggling rings since it closed part of its border with Colombia, a top official said Tuesday.

They were captured after intelligence was gathered on such rings, Diosdado Cabello, the national assembly speaker and the country's de facto number two official after President Nicolas Maduro, told official media.

Cabello was speaking at a rally with some of the 3,000 troops being sent in to reinforce the area in western Venezuela.

The countries have been locked in a row since Maduro on August 19 closed part of the border after unidentified assailants attacked a Venezuelan anti-smuggling patrol, wounding three soldiers and a civilian.

Maduro blamed the attack on right-wing paramilitaries from Colombia.

He has accused the neighboring country of waging an attack on Venezuela's economy -- a reference to the rampant smuggling of heavily subsidized food and other goods out of Venezuela, where more than five million Colombians live.

In the aftermath of the armed attack, Venezuela deported more than 1,100 Colombian nationals, prompting over 10,000 others to flee to avoid being sent home without their families or belongings.

A first contingent of 180 troops arrived in Tachira state Monday, near the Colombian border, in Air Force jets.

They are part of the 3,000 troops Maduro has ordered to be deployed in the area including the towns of Ayacucho, Garcia de Hevia, Lobatera and Panamericano.