Venezuelan fighter jet crashes on Colombia border

Venezuelan military plane crashes on Colombia border

Caracas (AFP) - A Venezuelan fighter jet crashed on the border with Colombia during an operation to intercept an "illicit aircraft," killing its two pilots, the government said Friday.

The two countries have been locked in a border conflict for a month after Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of part of the frontier, saying some of his military were attacked by Colombian paramilitaries during an anti-smuggling operation.

The Venezuelan plane was Thursday night chasing an "illicit aircraft that entered the northwestern part of the country (Venezuela) headed south toward the border with Colombia," Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez said in a statement.

He said "gangs in the area are trying to use our territory to traffic drugs produced in Colombia to Central America and the Caribbean."

Lopez later said both pilots of the Sukhoi Su-30 were dead and the aircraft was "completely destroyed."

In a tweet, Maduro expressed "all the support and solidarity of the country for the Bolivarian Military Aviation, lift up the morale and continue the fight."

Venezuela has stepped up its military presence over the past month.

Maduro has also ordered the deportation of 1,500 Colombians, while about 20,000 others have fled out of fear of being expelled, unleashing a major diplomatic crisis.

Maduro and his Colombian counterpart Juan Manuel Santos will meet in Quito on Monday to try to resolve the border spat.