Sweden on Monday demanded an explanation of how anti-tank rockets sold to Venezuela were obtained by Colombia’s main rebel group.
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 Venezuelan President 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 US 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.
Colombian President Alvaro Uribe complained over the weekend that if Bogota had kept quiet about the weapons “they’ll fire them and obtain more and no one in the international community will halt their sale.”
Venezuelan Justice Minister Tareck El Aissami dismissed the report of the missiles, denying that “our government or institutions have ever collaborated with any type of criminal or terrorist organizations.”
Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro called the launcher claim part of a “brutal campaign” with a single objective: “to justify the presence of US bases” in Colombia. He was referring to talks between Washington and Bogota on a bases accord.
Neither official offered information on whether the launchers might have once belonged to Venezuela’s arsenal.
Three launchers were recovered last 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 said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not 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 said. “We are still waiting for an answer.”