Terrorism: November 3, 2003

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Nicaragua's army said it would not destroy all of its Man-Portable Air Defense (MANPAD) missiles despite being urged to do so by American Secretary of State Colin Powell during his visit. Nicaraguan army chief General Javier Carrion admitted that his country had about 2,000 missiles (mostly SA-7s) that were supposedly worth $100 to 200 million. 

However, Powell had pointed out that these missiles were more trouble to Nicaragua than they were worth. The fear is that they could fall into the hands of terrorists, political extremists or drug traffickers (particularly the Colombians) who would then target commercial airliners.

Not too long ago, 3,000 Soviet-supplied AK-47 rifles from Nicaragua turned up with a right-wing Colombian paramilitary group. FARC already has some Soviet-made SAM-7, SAM-14 and SAM-16 missiles acquired from Nicaraguan arsenals. A teenage driver for the FARC's southern bloc commander said that boxes of missiles were flown into Colombia in 1999 on a private plane carrying three IRA members and two pilots. They were later said to have been joined by a German, who gave lessons in how to fire them.

Furthermore, the United States wants Central American countries to sign a mutual nonaggression pact that would restructure their security forces as counterdrug interdiction units, instead of offensively oriented conventional units.

When the US military has helped the Nicaraguans secure the missiles in a special facility and on August 14, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman General Richard Myers had said that the Nicaraguans had promised to destroy the missiles. While Carrion acknowledged that his army could destroy some missiles as part of a regional agreement, he could not allow it to be left at a military disadvantage against neighboring armies (echoing what Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Norman Caldera said on August 12). There are other army officers who are reluctant to give them up as well, because of a long-running border dispute with Honduras.

Nicaragua's left-wing Sandinista government got these missiles as military aid from Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War in the 1980s, when they were at war with US-backed Contra rebels. Carrion and many senior army officers were either veterans of the 1979 Sandinista revolution or the war with the Contras.

Carrion had expressed understanding of US concerns about such weapons in the wake of the September 11 attacks, but also bluntly said the United States had asked a lot "and they don't give". He related that government officials had complained about US aid being insufficient - so the real issue appears to be about financial aid. The US had supplied about $42.5 million in social, economic, military and police aid in 2003 and the figure for 2004 was projected to be around $46 million. If Carrion can persuade Washington to 'buy' his missiles, his political capital will skyrocket. - Adam Geibel


 

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