Venezuela sends 17 000 troops to seal Colombia border

San Cristobal - Venezuela said on Monday it has deployed 17 000 troops along the Colombian border to combat gasoline smuggling, as it prepared to seal the frontier nightly to stanch multi-billion-dollar annual losses.

Oil-rich Venezuela has some of the world's cheapest gasoline, as well as price controls that can make food and commodities up to 10 times less expensive than in Colombia.

That has led to an outward flood of contraband and officials have vowed to crack down, starting on Monday by closing the border at night from 22:00 to 05:00.

"We have 17 000 troops deployed along the entire border zone and they are enough to guarantee security," said the commander of the operation, General Vladimir Padrino Lopez.

Venezuela announced on Saturday that it would begin sealing the 2 200km border at night.

Private vehicles will be barred from crossing after 22:00, and commercial trucks after 18:00.

Padrino, who was speaking to journalists in the border state of Tachira, said officials would test the operation for 30 days and then evaluate the results.

The Venezuelan government estimates that 40% of the country's basic commodities are smuggled across the border with Colombia, plus 100 000 barrels of oil, equivalent to annual losses of $3.7bn.