Colombia leader says chopper hit by gunfire near Venezuela border

Colombian President Ivan Duque said Friday the helicopter he was flying in near the border with Venezuela was hit by gunfire.

It was the first attack against a Colombian president in nearly 20 years.

No one was injured. Colombian authorities did not say if the shots were fired from the Colombian or Venezuelan side of the frontier.

“It is a cowardly attack, where you can see bullet holes in the presidential aircraft,” Duque said in a statement.

Duque said he was flying with the defense and interior ministers and the governor of Norte de Santander province, which borders Venezuela, when the helicopter was attacked.

Photos released by the president’s office showed the tail and main blade of the helicopter had been hit.

The presidential delegation had left the town of Sardinata and was headed to the border city of Cucuta when they came under fire.

Duque had attended an event in the Catatumbo region, one of the main coca-growing areas of the country. Colombia is the world’s largest cocaine producer.

Holdouts from the disbanded FARC rebel group, an active guerrilla group called the National Liberation Army, and other armed bands fight drug trafficking turf wars along the long and porous border with Venezuela.

The two countries broke off relations after Duque, a conservative, came to power in 2018. Venezuela is governed by socialist President Nicolas Maduro.

“We are not frightened by violence or acts of terrorism. Our state is strong and Colombia is strong to confront this kind of threat,” Duque said after the attack on his chopper.

The border area has been violent of late.  

On June 16, a car bomb exploded inside a military base in Cucuta, leaving 36 people injured.

The government blamed the ELN, with which it ended peace negotiations in 2019.

Those talks started after the government concluded a historic peace accord in 2016 with the much bigger FARC that ended decades of civil war.

The last attack against a president in Colombia was a bombing that targeted then leader Alvaro Uribe in 2003.

A 20-kilo bomb hidden in a building near the airport in the southwest city of Neiva exploded prior to the landing of a plane carrying Uribe, who is Duque’s political mentor.

The blast killed 15 people and wounded 66. The government blamed the FARC for that attack.

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