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Venezuela's Foreign Minister: Colombia's FARC Weapons Claim A "Dirty Campaign"

By Kiraz Janicke
July 28, 2009 -

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicholas Maduro on Monday denounced insinuations by Colombian Vice President Francisco Santos that Venezuela is providing weapons to Colombian guerillas as a "dirty campaign" to justify the presence of US military bases in the neighboring country.

Santos told Colombian radio station, Caracol Radio on Monday, that AT4 shoulder-fired rockets manufactured by Saab Bofors Dynamics in Sweden and purchased by Venezuela in the 1980's were seized from a Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla camp.

"This is not the first time that this has happened," Santos claimed. "In several operations in which we have recovered weapons from the FARC, we have found powerful munitions and powerful equipment, including anti-tank weapons, from a European country that sold them to Venezuela and that turned up in the hands of the FARC."

Chief executive of Saab Bofors Dynamics, Tomas Samuelsson, confirmed to the Agence France-Presse news agency that the company had manufactured the weapons found by Colombian authorities.

"All countries that we export to have to sign an "end user" certificate otherwise export will not be permitted. Unfortunately, sometimes a weapon shows up where it shouldn't be, but that is very rare. When that happens, it is normally theft," Samuelsson added.

Jan-Erik Lovgren, the head of the Swedish government agency that supervises weapons exports, told Swedish Radio that the rocket launchers were sold to Venezuela during the 1980s, – at least a decade before the Chavez government came to power.

Lovgren said that the Swedish government was working with the Colombian government to determine how the arms ended up in Colombia.

The revelation by the Colombian government does not prove that the Chavez government sold or willingly gave the weapons to the guerilla group, Jane's Defence Weekly Americas analyst, Anna Gilmour, told AFP on July 27. Venezuelan arsenals are notorious for "seepage" by corrupt officers, who resell arms and munitions as contraband she added.

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, stated on Sunday that Colombia had to speak out about the weapons, which were seized in 2008, because if it had kept quiet, "they'll [the FARC] fire them and obtain more and no one in the international community will halt their sale."

However, Maduro said the comments coincide with a "dirty campaign that aims to justify the presence of US military bases in Colombian territory."

The international media says that the aim of the US military bases is to combat narco-trafficking and terrorism, "when in reality what they aim to do is install troops and use technology and arms that are a threat to the region and particularly to Venezuela," he told a press conference on Monday.

The foreign minister compared the claims to the international media campaign in the lead up to the Iraq war alleging that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction; "an argument that served the United States to justify the invasion of that country and take control of its oil."

Colombia claims that the weapons resemble rockets described in email exchanges between the late FARC commander Raul Reyes and emissaries in Venezuela attempting to acquire arms. The emails were allegedly retrieved from laptop computers belonging to Reyes seized during an illegal cross border raid in Ecuador by the Colombian military in March 2008.

Colombia, a staunch US ally, has frequently used information supposedly contained in the laptops to claim that neighbouring governments in Venezuela and Ecuador have links with the FARC guerillas. However, an Interpol examination found that the veracity of the information could not be determined as the Colombian Army used and modified the archives.

At a press conference on Monday Venezuelan Interior and Justice Minister Tareck El Aissami categorized the claims as "a new attack against our government based on lies."

"It doesn't surprise us that once again a new archive has appeared in Reyes super-computer, this new media show forms part of an aggression against our people, against our government and its institutions," El Aissami told reporters.

"We absolutely deny that our government or our institutions are providing assistance to criminal and terrorist organizations," he sustained.

As a result of Colombia's agreement to allow US access to military, air and naval bases, Venezuelan President Chavez called off a bilateral meeting between the two countries last week and ordered a "revision" of diplomatic and commercial ties.



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