Venezuela detains Sinaloa cartel members in clash at Colombian border

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan forces detained members of the Mexican Sinaloa drug cartel during clashes with armed groups near its western border with Colombia, a top Venezuelan military official said on Friday.

Venezuela's military on March 21 launched an offensive against what officials called irregular Colombian armed groups in the western state of Apure. About eight Venezuelan soldiers have died during the operations, which have caused about 5,000 people to flee across the border.

"We even captured some individuals from the Sinaloa cartel," the chief of Venezuela's strategic operational command, Remigio Ceballos, said in a telephone call broadcast on state television.

Ceballos did not specify the names of the people detained, nor how many cartel members were taken into custody. He said some individuals from Brazil were also detained, and said all would be presented to the country's courts.

The fighting has occurred near the border town of La Victoria, about 628 km (390 miles) southwest of the Venezuelan capital of Caracas.

Venezuela's information ministry did not immediately respond to a request for further details about the arrests.

Colombia's government has said that the Sinaloa cartel is active in the South American country and has alliances with local rebel groups, including the National Liberation Army (ELN) and former members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) who have rejected a 2016 peace deal.

Venezuela, which this week created a special military unit for the border region, has not specified which groups it is fighting along the border. Critics of President Nicolas Maduro say the fighters include dissident FARC guerrillas who his government had previously accommodated.

(Reporting by Deisy Buitrago in Caracas; Writing by Luc Cohen; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)

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