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U.S. plane enters Venezuela airspace

Caracas demands an explanation; Navy craft may have strayed.

May 20, 2008|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

CARACAS, VENEZUELA — Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro said Monday that U.S. Ambassador Patrick Duddy would be called in to explain a U.S. Navy plane's violation of Venezuelan airspace.

Defense Minister Gen. Gustavo Rangel Briceno said Venezuela believes the intrusion was deliberate, but U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the plane "may have strayed inadvertently into Venezuelan airspace" while conducting a counter-narcotics mission.

The S-3 plane, deployed to the airport in Curacao, was detected in Venezuelan airspace Saturday night near the Caribbean island of La Orchila, and questioned by the Caracas airport control tower.

A Defense official in Washington said the S-3 was contacted by Curacao air traffic control and told to radio a Venezuelan air traffic control center. That center told the S-3's four-person crew that they had flown into Venezuelan airspace.

The S-3 was having intermittent navigational problems, the official said, and the Navy was investigating the incident.

"We respect the sovereign airspace of any other country, and so it's a big deal," said the Defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

President Hugo Chavez has repeatedly accused Washington of plotting an invasion to destabilize his government, a charge the U.S. denies.

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