Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the mobilization of more than 5,600 troops in response to the deployment of a British warship to the coast of Guyana as tensions emerged over the oil-rich territory.
The dispatch of the vessel was seen as a signal of support for the former British colony, prompting the Venezuelan ruler to put his military on high alert "in response to the provocation and threat of the UK against peace and the sovereignty of our country," Maduro said.
"It is the breaking of the spirit of dialogue, diplomacy and peace of the agreements," Maduro said last week after he learned about the ship's deployment, calling it "practically a military threat from London."
In a televised address, Maduro said he directed the Bolivarian national armed forces to take joint defensive actions off the coast of Essequibo, but he did not offer details about the mobilization.
"We believe in diplomacy, in dialogue, in peace," Maduro said. "But no one should threaten Venezuela, no one should mess with Venezuela. We are men of peace, we are a people of peace, but we are warriors and this threat is unacceptable for any sovereign country," he said.
On Dec. 24, the British Ministry of Defense announced the deployment of the patrol vessel HMS Trent to Guyana as part of a series of engagements in the region, but did not mention the ongoing dispute between the South American neighbors.
The controversy erupted after Maduro announced a plan to tap natural oil reserves in the Essequibo region, which is commonly acknowledged as land belonging to Guyana.
However, Venezuela renewed its claim to the 62,000 square mile area following major discoveries of oil and gas in recent years.
The dispute heated up recently after Venezuelans voted in favor of turning the Essequibo region into a new state for Venezuela, while also passing a measure to block the international court of justice from intervening.
Earlier this month, Guyana and Venezuela signed an agreement to avoid a military conflict in light of the elevated tensions.