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The Journal Gazette

Wednesday, December 05, 2012 4:47 pm

Citing crime, Norway to close Venezuela embassy

By FABIOLA SANCHEZAssociated Press

Norway will close its embassy in Venezuela because of rampant crime in the South American country and move the diplomatic mission to neighboring Colombia, its ambassador said Wednesday.

Norwegian ambassador Lars Vaagen said the decision to move the embassy to Bogota next year was made after analyzing the problem of widespread violent crime in Venezuela.

"We see the security situation as increasingly difficult," Vaagen said in a telephone interview.

Norway's embassy in Caracas has been operating for almost 45 years.

In polls, Venezuelans consistently rate violent crime as their top concern.

The government of President Hugo Chavez estimates that more than 14,000 people were killed in Venezuela last year. That gave the country a homicide rate of 50 per 100,000 people and made it one of the most violent countries in Latin America and the world.

Kidnappings for ransom have grown rapidly over the past decade, with abductions reported to police rising from 52 in 1998, when Chavez was first elected, to 618 in 2009. Security experts say the real number of kidnappings is much higher because most cases aren't reported to authorities.

Over the last year, diplomats from Mexico and Chile were kidnapped, and all were eventually freed after ordeals lasting from two hours to more than a day. The abductions of diplomats influenced Norway's decision to move its embassy, Vaagen said. Thieves have also broken into several diplomatic missions in recent years.

Experts say violent crime has increased in Venezuela due to easy, cheap access to guns, a culture of violence among young men in the slums, and severe shortages of police officers and prosecutors.