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11 August 2004

Nicaragua Destroys Another Batch of Air Defense Missiles

U.S. praises Nicaraguan campaign to destroy missiles

By Eric Green
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- Nicaragua has destroyed another portion of its missile stockpile in a move that the United States says will thwart terrorists from attempting to shoot down civilian aircraft.

A spokesman for the Nicaraguan Embassy in Washington confirmed August 11 that his country's government had destroyed 333 more shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles that were obtained from the former Soviet Union in the 1980s. In May 2004, Nicaragua had destroyed a first batch of 333 shoulder-fired missiles, known as "manpads," which stands for "man-portable air defense system."

The July 29 destruction of the missiles occurred at a site about 96 kilometers (60 miles) northwest of the Nicaraguan capital of Managua. Among those observing the destruction of the missiles were several officials from the U.S. State Department, the Nicaraguan spokesman said.

The spokesman said Nicaragua also plans to destroy another batch of about 333 missiles in November. This means, the spokesman said, that by the end of 2004, Nicaragua will have destroyed about one-half of its original inventory of 2,000 missiles.

The spokesman said there is "interest and willingness" on the part of the Nicaraguan government to continue destroying its inventory of missiles, but that such an action depends on approval by the Nicaraguan parliament. In addition, the action has to conform to a treaty among Central American nations to maintain a "reasonable balance of forces" in the region, the spokesman said. That treaty, he said, was initiated by Nicaraguan President Enrique Bolanos, which aims to achieve a "rational balance of military forces" in Central America.

The United States has praised Nicaragua's decision to destroy the missiles, saying the weapons have been actively sought and used by terrorist organizations to attack civil aviation.

The U.S. State Department has said it is working with other countries in Latin America and around the world to reduce the threat of these missiles. A U.S. contractor assisted in the destruction of the first batch of missiles, in cooperation with the Nicaraguan government, the State Department said.

The more recent missile destructions were funded by the State Department with technical support from the U.S. Southern Command.

Nicaragua's 2,000 surface-to-air weapons were obtained from the Soviet Union during the Cold War era of the 1980s, when the left-wing Sandinista government then in power in Nicaragua was fighting a civil war against right-wing rebels.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said during his November 2003 trip to Nicaragua that the nation's stockpile of shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missiles did not have a role to play in Central America's current political climate.

Powell said the missiles did not provide security for Nicaragua, nor were they necessary for establishing the region's balance of forces. Instead, Powell said, the missiles were a burden on the nation's military and a potential danger -- and should be entirely eliminated.

Powell praised Nicaragua's Bolanos for demonstrating leadership on security issues by encouraging the region's other heads of state to reduce their defense expenditures and establish a reasonable balance of defense forces in Central America. Powell said this adjustment was a natural extension of increased integration and cooperation in the region, and a recognition of the changing threats facing Central America.

"The Nicaraguan people and the people in other nations in Central America should be more worried about narco-trafficking and terrorists than they should be about being invaded by a neighbor," Powell said November 4. He suggested that the security initiative that Bolanos had presented to his Central American counterparts "reflects the new reality" in the region.

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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