(BBC) Venezuelan air force troops have been searching for the bodies of 28 gold miners who are reported to have been killed by a criminal gang in a remote jungle area.
They fear they may have been killed by a gang trying to take control of a wildcat mine near the town of Tumeremo.
But the governor of the south-eastern state of Bolivar said the troops had found no evidence of a massacre.
“So far there’s not any indication of any person killed or missing,” said Governor Francisco Rangel of the governing socialist PSUV party.
“What happened there, according to the security forces, was another clash between armed gangs that are trying to control mining activities in the area,” added Mr Rangel.
Venezuela’s public prosecutor said two investigators had been sent to Tumeremo to investigate the incident.
‘Fight over gold’
The missing miners worked at the Atenas gold mine. Reports of their disappearance first emerged on Saturday when worried relatives reported that their loved ones had not returned from work.
The number of missing miners soon grew from two to 28.
The families blocked a road in Tumeremo to demand the disappearance be investigated. With tempers running high at the roadblock, reports soon spread about a deadly stand-off at the mine.
Local media quoted “eyewitnesses” who said the discovery of a significant gold deposit had pitched the miners against members of a gang who wanted to lay their hands on the lucrative find.
The gang members allegedly opened fire on the miners and later forced the survivors to load the bodies onto a lorry.
There are conflicting reports as to where the bodies were taken, with some locals saying they were driven further into the mine and others alleging they were dismembered by chainsaw and disposed of on land belonging to the gang leader.
Despite the detailed accounts on local media, Governor Rangel blamed “irresponsible politicians” for wanting to stir unrest.
“There’s been no problem in Tumeremo. It’s totally irresponsible to claim things which are false,” he said.
Opposition lawmaker Americo de Grazia accused Mr Rangel of trying to cover up the alleged massacre.
He compared Mr Rangel to the governor of the Mexican state of Guerrero, where 43 students disappeared in September 2014.