Swedish-made anti-tank launchers sold to Venezuela found in hands of Colombian rebels.By Frank Bajak, AP
Monday, July 27, 2009
Rocket launchers sold to Venezuela went to FARC
BOGOTA — Swedish-made anti-tank rocket launchers sold to Venezuela years ago were obtained by Colombia’s main rebel group, and Sweden said Monday it was demanding an explanation.
Colombia said its military found the weapons in a captured rebel arms cache and that Sweden had recently confirmed they originally were sold to Venezuela’s military.
The confirmation strengthens Colombian allegations that Hugo Chavez’s government has aided the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, and exacerbated tensions between the neighboring nations over an imminent agreement to expand the U.S. military’s use of Colombian air and naval bases.
The bazooka-like AT-4 single-use launchers, made by Saab Bofors Dynamics, lack the precision and range of surface-to-air weapons and there is no evidence FARC rebels have used any in combat.
President Alvaro Uribe complained over the weekend that if Colombia had kept quiet about the weapons “they’ll fire them and obtain more and no one in the international community will halt their sale.”
Venezuela’s justice minister, Tareck El Aissami, on Monday dismissed the report of the missiles, denying that “our government or institutions have ever collaborated with any type of criminal or terrorist organizations.”
The country’s foreign minister, Nicolas Maduro, called the launcher claim part of a “brutal campaign” with a single objective: “to justify the presence of U.S. bases” in Colombia. He was referring to talks between Washington and Bogota — a hoped-for final round is slated for early August — on a bases accord.
Neither official offered information on whether the launchers might have once belonged to Venezuela’s arsenal.
Three launchers were recovered in October in a FARC arms cache belonging to a rebel commander known as “Jhon 40″ and Colombia only recently asked Sweden to confirm whether they had been sold to Venezuela, a senior Colombian official told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to discuss the matter.
In Stockholm, a senior Swedish Trade Ministry official, Jens Eriksson, said his government was working with Colombia “to find out how this happened.”
“We have also contacted Venezuelan authorities,” he told the AP. “We are still waiting for an answer.”
The head of the Swedish government agency that supervises weapons exports, Jan-Erik Lovgren, told Swedish Radio that the weapons were sold to Venezuela in the 1980s.
Lovgren said the incident — a clear violation of end-user licenses — could affect future decisions on whether to allow weapons sales to Venezuela.
“Right now we don’t have any ongoing business, but if we were to receive some, we would very likely say no,” he added.
Colombian officials leaked electronic documents last year they said were found on the computer of slain FARC No. 2 commander Raul Reyes in which rebel commanders discussed obtaining bazookas and other arms from Venezuelan officials, including then-military intelligence chief Hugo Carvajal.
Colombia has long maintained that the FARC has been seeking to obtain shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles, whose use would significantly escalate a 45-year-old low-level conflict that has claimed about 3,500 lives annually.
“We know from intelligence that they are now seeking to buy some surface-to-air weapons to try to shoot down our planes,” Uribe told reporters on Monday.
Military analyst Anna Gilmour, deputy editor of Jane’s Intelligence Review, said the AT-4s don’t provide a major boost to the FARC’s capability.
“While SAMs are guided missiles that lock on to fast-moving aerial targets such as helicopters, the AT4 fires unguided rockets that can easily miss their target,” she said.
Jane’s Intelligence Weekly first reported on the launchers last week.
It said batches of AT-4s were sold to Venezuela in the 1980s and 1990s but that Saab ceased sales of military equipment to Venezuela in May 2006 in response to a U.S. arms embargo.
Colombian and U.S. officials accuse Venezuela of giving senior FARC leaders refuge and of allowing the rebels to smuggle tons of cocaine through the country.
Chavez’s government denies the accusations.
Associated Press Writers Karl Ritter in Stockholm and Fabiola Sanchez in Caracas contributed to this report.
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