- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 30, 2006

SANTA CRUZ, Bolivia — Opposition leaders are calling for the government of President Evo Morales to investigate charges that Venezuela is sending arms and military personnel to organize a special militia for the ruling Movement to Socialism (MAS).

Lawmakers of the conservative Podemos party cite immigration records that show nearly 100 Venezuelan military officers have entered Bolivia since Mr. Morales took power in January.

“How many military personnel of foreign armed forces have entered Bolivia during 2006, what are their movements and under what agreements are they here?” asks a letter presented by Podemos deputy Fernando Messmer to Defense Minister Walker San Miguel.

Immigration lists, which name the Venezuelans and have been published in Bolivian newspapers, show that 85 of the military officers arrived between Jan. 11 and Jan. 23, shortly after Mr. Morales was sworn into office. The new president said at the time that intelligence experts from Venezuela and Cuba had come to conduct sweeps and remove electronic bugs from the presidential palace and other government offices.

Interior Ministry officials have also told reporters that Venezuelan security specialists are training Bolivian military engineers to protect oil and gas facilities, which were nationalized with the public backing of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez earlier this month.

Members of the opposition and sources inside Bolivia’s military say that Venezuelan military activities go beyond the technical assistance, involving espionage and clandestine weapons shipments.

A regional official in the eastern department of Santa Cruz, Jesus Marco Lopez, has charged in a signed statement to police that thousands of automatic rifles and electronic intelligence devices have been smuggled along with equipment sent by Venezuela for a national literacy campaign.

Mr. Lopez, who belongs to a political grouping that includes recently retired military officers, also called on the government to investigate reports that 30,000 assault rifles recently acquired by Venezuela from Eastern Europe are being used to organize a secret militia to operate outside the regular armed forces.

Government spokesmen say that Mr. Lopez is “hallucinating.” Bolivian military sources contacted by The Washington Times think that his assertions are exaggerated but that a number of weapons may have entered the country and that militia training camps exist in the coca-producing region of Chapare.

Other security officials said that unregistered Venezuelan flights have landed in the eastern department of Beni and other remote points of Bolivia.

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