Venezuela, Netherlands panel to review flights

CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuela and the Netherlands will review aerial operations by both countries after Caracas protested what it said were illegal flights by Dutch military planes into its airspace, a joint statement by the countries said yesterday.

On Tuesday Venezuela complained about three “provocative” flights this month presumed to have originated from Dutch islands off its Caribbean coast.

The Netherlands said the allegations were groundless and that it wanted to resolve the issue with dialogue.

A dispute has simmered since the Latin American country accused the Dutch last year of letting US military spy flights operate from bases on the Dutch territories of Aruba and Curacao.

“It was agreed to create a commission to review the air operations conducted by the two countries,” said the joint statement issued after Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro met his Dutch counterpart Maxime Verhagen in Caracas on Friday.

It said the two nations would also study the feasibility of constructing a Venezuela-Aruba gas pipeline, and that the ministers had expressed their support for continued cooperation between Venezuela’s state oil company PDVSA and the refineries in Aruba and Curacao.

“Both ministers reasserted the staunch commitment of their countries to absolute respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty,” the statement said, adding that Aruba’s Prime Minister Mike Eman and a senior official from the Dutch Antilles had also attended the meeting.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has said the self-governing Dutch islands are in Venezuelan territorial waters, and last year he accused the Netherlands of planning aggression against Venezuela by letting US military forces operate from them.

The Dutch government says about 250 US personnel are on Curacao and Aruba to fight drug trafficking and conduct surveillance operations over Caribbean drug smuggling routes.

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