By Stefano Pozzebon and Ana Victoria Cucalón, CNN
Updated: Fri, 15 Oct 2021 04:29:28 GMT
The killing of two Venezuelan boys in Colombia is rapidly escalating into a diplomatic row with neighboring Venezuela.
The Venezuelan youths, aged 12 and 18, were seized by bystanders in the Colombian town of Tibú last week, and accused of intending to rob a store, according to a statement by regional police. They were tied up and their hands bound, the statement said.
In a widely circulated video seen by CNN, they appear surrounded by screaming people, who threatened to parade them across town.
Both were later found dead with bullets in their heads and a sign reading "thief" on their bodies, a police source, who asked not to be named because they were not authorized to discuss the matter, told CNN.
It remains unclear who killed the boys. Tibú is a remote town in the rural Catatumbo region, where guerrilla groups and narco-trafficking organizations are known to control large areas of the territory.
On Monday, Col. Carlos Martinez of the Colombian police announced an investigation had been launched into the murder, and blamed local guerrilla groups.
But Venezuelan officials quickly showed their dissatisfaction with Colombian authorities' work to secure justice, and seized on the killing as proof of a broader phenomenon.
On Wednesday, Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodriguez cited the deaths as evidence of xenophobia and deadly persecution of Venezuelan migrants.
"The truth is that our migrants are being murdered in Colombia," she said during a news conference in Caracas, vowing to raise the issue with multilateral organizations.
While millions of migrants moved from Colombia to Venezuela in the 20th century to escape drug-related conflict in their country, the trend has reversed in the past few years due to Venezuela's economic collapse and political crisis. There are currently more than 1.8 million Venezuelan migrants in Colombia, the world's largest community of overseas Venezuelans.
Colombian President Ivan Duque has received international praise for issuing temporary protection status (TPS) for 10 years to Venezuelan migrants, allowing them to enroll their children in school and receive health coverage from the Colombian state.
Also on Wednesday, Duque personally presented ID papers to the first migrant under the TPS framework, a 49-year-old engineer from Acarigua, Venezuela, who moved to Bogota in 2017.
"Colombia welcomes you with open arms, I'm very happy to visit you," Duque said just as Rodriguez was accusing Colombian authorities of failing migrants.
Colombia and Venezuela have not had diplomatic relations since 2019, when the government in Bogota, along with more than 50 countries including the United States, officially recognized Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido as the country's legitimate head of state.