At least 18 people have been killed in southern Venezuela following clashes between miners and security forces at an illegal mine.

According to media sources, no soldiers were killed in the confrontation.

The incident occurred during ‘an exchange of shots with several still-unidentified suspects’, according to an unofficial military report accessed by AFP.

An army officer reportedly told the news agency that forces were travelling to the Cicapra mine when it was informed about an armed gang attacking wildcat miners in the remote area.

“The incident occurred during ‘an exchange of shots with several still-unidentified suspects’.”

Furthermore, the officer stated that the deceased included the sister of Anderson Rodriguez, who was an alleged gang leader murdered last year. His sister was understood to have assumed control of the area following his death and was known locally as ‘the boss’.

Local media reports stated that the army recovered assault rifles, pistols, revolvers, and other ammunition.

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The state of Bolivar has been witnessing violence between local criminal gangs and military.

In 2016, bodies of 17 miners were found by the government authorities in a mass grave.

Following the incident, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro decided to increase focus on the area and tackle the problem of illegal miners from the country and neighbouring Brazil, according to Reuters.