Colombian officials: No evidence rebels have surface-to-air missiles

BOGOTA - Colombia's defence minister and armed forces chief said Wednesday that there is no evidence the country's main leftist rebel group has surface-to-air missiles, following a statement by the top U.S. military official for Latin America suggesting they do.

Southern Command chief Gen. John Kelly told the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee in a posture statement the week before Easter that the "hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue the FARC receives from cocaine trafficking alone enable them to purchase surface-to-air-missiles."

Colombian Defence Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon and armed forces chief Gen. Alejandro Navas told reporters when questioned after a military ceremony that they had no evidence that Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, FARC in its Spanish initials, have surface-to-air-missiles.

Southcom spokesman Jose Ruiz, responding to an email query, later said the only thing he could add to Kelly's statement "is that the U.S. Southern Command is aware the FARC was in possession of the SA-7 man-portable surface-to-air missile system (MANPADS)."

Navas told reporters that while captured documents have shown the FARC's intention of acquiring such missiles Colombia's military had no evidence of that, though Southcom "has more and more up-to-date information."

Pinzon said at least two old used and discarded surface-to-air missiles had been found two years ago. He mentioned it in October when the armed forces confirmed the find, calling the SA-7 missiles "frankly old, frankly useless, according to experts."

The peasant-based FARC is currently engaged in peace talks in Cuba with Colombia's government that formally began in November in hopes of ending a stubborn, half-century-old struggle rooted in land tenure issues.



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