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Venezuela protests to US on claimed air incursion

CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuela made a diplomatic protest to the United States and the Netherlands on Monday, saying a U.S. military plane violated its airspace last week after taking off from the Dutch Caribbean island of Curacao. A U.S. diplomat denied it.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro called the purported incursion “an attempt to provoke some type of incident.” He presented a protest letter to John Caulfield, charge d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Caracas, and to Dutch diplomat J.G. van Vloten Dissevelt.

Maduro expressed concern about the Netherlands’ role, saying that “we are worried that their territories are being used by the U.S. to make illegal incursions into our airspace.”

Caulfield denied the accusation, saying a U.S. military plane has not strayed into Venezuelan airspace since 2008, when the U.S. acknowledged what it called an accidental incident involving a Navy plane. Caulfield noted that U.S. and Venezuelan officials discussed that incident in 2008.

“We have not had any other event of a violation of Venezuelan airspace by American planes,” Caulfield said.

In making the allegation last week, Chavez accused Washington of trying to provoke his government by sending an American P-3 plane from Curacao to twice enter Venezuelan airspace twice Friday. The plane was met by Venezuelan F-16s and escorted out of Venezuelan airspace, he said.

Venezuelan Vice President Ramon Carrizalez appeared on state television Monday to present what he said was evidence of the alleged incursion. Flanked by military officials, Carrizalez showed diagrams of what he said was the route taken by U.S. aircraft after its takeoff from Curacao.

“We are showing the country and the world that incursions into our airspace are occurring to provoke us, to test our reaction and possibly, at any moment, to launch an attack,” Carrizalez said.

U.S. officials have said the American military’s use of airfields in Aruba and Curacao for counter-drug flights poses no threat to Venezuela.