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
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
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
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
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.