(Reuters) – Venezuelan authorities closed roads in northwestern Caracas on Thursday due to heavy gunfire between security forces and gangs, according to analysts, trying to expand their controlled territory in the capital.
Heavy-armed criminal gangs have moved from slums in the Caracas mountains to residential and commercial areas in the past month, with violence erupting in the past 24 hours and shootings erupting in areas with a population of at least five.
“State security agencies continue to be used in areas violated by these criminals and will not rest until full control is restored,” the interior minister wrote on Twitter. Carmen Melandes.
He said some roads in the area had been closed as part of the operation and asked the public to stay home.
The government of President Nicolas Maduro in question did not mention the victims as a result of the conflict. Human rights activists in the area said at least four civilians had been killed and half a dozen injured on Wednesday.
The Ministry of Information did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Gangs in the vicinity of Kota 905 in Caracas
Since January, gangs in the vicinity of Kota 905 have been trying to expand their territory to nearby areas, including La Vega.
“We haven’t run the kitchens at full capacity since January due to gunfire almost every day,” said Amelia Flores, 58, who runs two soup kitchens, primarily for children, in the area. “I do not know what happened, but in the last 24 hours the situation has erupted and the children are in shock.”
A human rights activist based in one of the affected areas said the gangs wanted to control one of the main corridors connecting the capital with the west of the country.
Asked not to be named for fear of revenge, the activist said, “The same conflict has been going on for months.”
Analysts say the gangs in Kota 905 were able to operate more easily because it was an inaccessible place for security forces because they made an agreement with the government to reduce violence. Experts say the gangs used the opportunity to buy military-grade weapons such as grenades, assault weapons and drones.
“They used the space given to them by the government in La Cotta to restructure, gain strength and plan an attack,” said Alexander Campos, a Venezuelan Central University researcher who studies violence and politics in the community.
“They extend from the control of the surroundings in the mountains to the lower parts of the city,” he said. “It’s hard for them, but they succeed.”
‘It feels like a war zone’
Innes Candida, 56, lives in El Parazzo, a middle-class neighbor across the road from the Kota 905 neighborhood. He said gangs have been involved in shootings with police every day for the past one month. But he said he had never seen or heard anything like that in the last 24 hours.
“We are prisoners in our own homes,” he said over the phone, intermittent shots in the background.
Wilfredo Corneal, 45, a Catholic priest, works at a church near El Cementerio. He and others took refuge there, and in a phone call he shot more footage to CNN: “It feels like we’re in a war zone.”
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