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Paramilitary suspects arrested

Venezuelan intelligence agents arrested three suspected members of a Colombian paramilitary group, including a police officer from a town near the countries' shared border, and seized a weapons cache, President Hugo Chavez's government announced.

The suspects were apprehended last week during a sting operation in Rubio, a quaint town located about 30 miles from Venezuela's border with Colombia, according to a government statement.

They are being questioned by prosecutors.

The suspects - Luis Arfilio Salcedo Fernandez, a state police officer, Rivera Ardila Enadir, the officer's wife, and Albarracin Romero Enadir - are alleged members of a Colombian paramilitary group known as The Black Eagles, which operates in several states along the border, the statement said.

The group is involved in extortion, kidnappings and drug smuggling, among other illegal activities.

Agents from the Sebin intelligence agency seized two assault rifles, a submachine gun, a revolver, a 12-gauge shotgun and a tear gas canister along with ammunition for the firearms, according to the statement.

Authorities are trying to identify others members of the group. The number of paramilitaries and leftist guerrillas operating in Venezuela, particularly the border states of Tachira and Zulia, increased significantly in recent years, according to the governors of those states.

Some of the paramilitaries and the guerrillas slip over the border from Colombia.

Mr Chavez's political adversaries said the government is cracking down on paramilitaries that cross the border to operate in Venezuelan territory, but contend authorities largely ignore the presence of Colombian leftist rebels who take shelter in Venezuela.

Mr Chavez denies harbouring rebels, saying the military does all it can to keep them out.

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