Venezuela withdraws Bogotá ambassador over FARC accusations

President Hugo Chávez withdrew his ambassador from Bogotá and threatened to break diplomatic relations to protest “irresponsible declarations” by Colombian President Alvaro Uribe that weapons found in the hands of the FARC guerrillas had been sold by the Swedish government to Venezuela in 1988. Stockholm has asked Venezuela to explain how Swedish-made weapons ended up in the hands of the guerillas.

Tommy Stromberg of the Swedish Embassy in Bogotá, said his government has been pressing Venezuela for weeks to explain how the three shoulder-fired AT4 grenade launchers and ammunition ended up with the FARC. “We’re waiting for the content of the actual response,” Stromberg told McClatchy news service. Jens Eriksson of the Swedish Trade Ministry told BBC his government was working with Colombia “to find out how this happened.” Jan-Erik Lovgren of the Swedish Inspectorate for Strategic Products told Radio Sweden that the incident is a clear violation of end-user licenses and could affect future decisions on whether to allow weapons sales to Venezuela.

Colombian troops recovered the weapons in a raid on a FARC camp. On July 27, Colombian Vice President Francisco Santos told Radio Caracol: “In several operations in which we have recovered weapons…we have found powerful ammunition [and] powerful equipment, including anti-tank weapons which a European country sold to Venezuela and which turned up in the hands of the FARC.”

Venezuelan Interior Minister Tareck El Aissami said the allegations were a “media show” and “part of a campaign against our people, our government and our institutions.” Venezuela’s Foreign Minister, Nicolas Maduro, charged a “brutal campaign” against Venezuela, and a scheme “to justify the presence of US bases” in Colombia. A Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it will respond firmly to “every aggression from the Colombian government with very firm measures.” The statement questioned why Bogotá does not “demand the U.S. or Israel to explain how thousands of weapons made in those countries go to the hands of the guerilla inside Colombia?” The recalled ambassador, Gustavo Marquez, accused Colombia of using the arms cache to “justify an intervention in Venezuela.”

OAS head José Miguel Insulza urged Venezuela not to break off diplomatic relations with Colombia or take other drastic steps such as halting commerce. Annual trade between Venezuela and Colombia totals some $7.2 billion. Venezuelan Food Minister Felix Osorio said the country can easily replace food imports from Colombia should Chávez “freeze” relations. (McClatchy Newspapers, Bloomberg, AP, Xinhua, July 30; BBC News, AFP, July 27)

The weapons were uncovered in a July 2008 army raid on the camp of Gener García AKA “Jhon 40”, a commander of FARC’s Eastern Bloc in Meta department. Jhon 40 escaped into the jungle. Parts for the AT-4s, produced by Saab Bofors Dynamics, were also found in another raid on a FARC camp in the area in September or October (by various sources). Two other such weapons were reportedly found in a raid on a camp in Yarí, Caquetá department, in el 2004. They were all of the same series, although it was not established that these had been sold to Venezuela. (El Tiempo, Bogotá, July 29; Semana, Bogotá, July 28)

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