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Venezuela to summon U.S. diplomat in airspace violation query

By Fabiola Sanchez

Associated Press

CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuela wants the U.S. ambassador to explain a violation of its airspace by a U.S. Navy plane, the country’s foreign minister said Monday.

The S-3 U.S. Navy plane was detected in Venezuelan airspace on Saturday night near the Caribbean island of La Orchila, and questioned by the Caracas airport control tower, Defense Minister Gen. Gustavo Rangel Briceno said.

U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the plane "may have strayed inadvertently into Venezuelan airspace" while conducting a counter-drug mission.

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The U.S. Joint Interagency Task Force South, which coordinates counter-drug operations in the region from Key West, Florida, thanked Venezuelan air traffic controllers for their "assistance in guiding the U.S. aircraft (back) to international airspace."

A statement from the agency said the incident is under investigation.

But Rangel said Venezuela believes the flyover was deliberate, and Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro said U.S. Ambassador Patrick Duddy will be called in to explain on Tuesday.

The incident could aggravate tensions between the U.S. and its fifth largest oil supplier. President Hugo Chavez has repeatedly accused Washington of plotting an invasion to destabilize his government, despite U.S. denials.

Maduro last weekend alleged that Colombia’s U.S.-allied government sent 60 troops about 875 yards (800 meters) across the nations’ shared border. Colombia denied any incursion.

Venezuelan Gen. Jesus Gonzalez said a group of Colombian troops crossed the border again on Monday, but the matter was resolved when they left at the request of Venezuelan troops.

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