Guyana loses helicopter contact with military officials near the border with Venezuela

Guyana loses helicopter contact with military officials near the border with Venezuela

GEORGETOWN, Guyana (AP) — A military helicopter carrying seven people disappeared Wednesday near Guyana’s border with Venezuela. The authorities indicated that there was bad weather in the area and stressed that there were no indications that it could have been hit by hostile fire, at a time of tensions between both countries.

Two members of the helicopter crew were taking five high-ranking officers to an inspection of troops guarding a border area that Venezuela claims as its own, according to army chief Brigadier General Omar Khan.

In recent weeks, Venezuelan troops with heavy machinery and equipment have amassed at the border, leading to speculation about an imminent invasion. Guyana’s President Irfaan Ali told The Associated Press on Wednesday that he was taking all necessary measures to defend the country from him.

Khan told reporters late on Wednesday that the Guyana Defense Forces lost contact with the Bell 412 EPI helicopter after it took off from the Olive Creek settlement in western Guyana following a refueling stop.

Asked if the aircraft was shot down while flying in a mountainous and heavily forested area, Khan said there was no indication that that had happened.

“We do not have any information that indicates that there was any flight of Venezuelan aircraft in that area,” he said. “I don’t want to get into speculation. Our priority is to save the lives of our officers and troops.”

He said the U.S. government will help in the search when it resumes Thursday.

The disappearance of the aircraft about 48 kilometers (30 miles) east of the border with Venezuela comes as tensions rise between Guyana and Venezuela over the mineral-rich Essequibo region located near of huge oil deposits. Venezuela claims the region as its own, insisting that it has been part of the country since the Spanish Colony.

Guyana maintains that the border defined by international arbitrators in 1899 is the correct one.

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