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25 February 2005

Nicaragua Reaffirms Pledge to Destroy Anti-aircraft Missiles

United States concerned weapons could fall into terrorists' hands

By Eric Green
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- Nicaragua has reassured the United States that it will honor a commitment to destroy its own stock of shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, says Rose Likins, the U.S. State Department's acting assistant secretary for political-military affairs.

Likins said in a statement that Nicaraguan President Enrique Bolaños "reassured me" of his "firm commitment," given to President Bush and former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell in 2003, that Nicaragua would destroy the missiles "in order to reduce the chance that they might fall into the hands of criminals and terrorists."  The statement was posted on the U.S. Embassy Web site in Managua following Likins' visit to Nicaragua February 22-24 to discuss the missile issue with Nicaraguan officials.

Likins’ delegation to Managua included U.S. Department of Defense officials.  She said the United States was very pleased to receive "reiterations" from Nicaraguan officials of their commitment to continue with the destruction and safeguarding of man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS), which can be used against commercial aircraft.

The issue, said Likins, is one of "long-standing concern and one in which the United States has been productively engaging with the Nicaraguan government and army, resulting in the destruction of a partial stock" of the missiles during 2004.

The U.S. government, she said, is working worldwide to address the global threat of the shoulder-fired missiles.

"It is a fact that air defense missiles are the weapons of choice for terrorists,” Likins said.  As a "responsible member of the international community, Nicaragua should continue to consider commercial aviation security and the implications that these unguarded missiles have for the security as well as the economic opportunities” of Nicaragua, she added.

Nicaragua is the only nation in Central America that still has these types of portable missiles within its borders, Likins said.  She added, "Missiles that are not officially monitored and controlled could easily fall into the hands of criminal or terrorist elements.  Our concern is that these types of unaccounted-for weapons pose a major threat to the region and to civil aviation worldwide."

In 2004, Nicaragua destroyed more than 1,000 of its portable missiles -- about half of its original inventory of 2,000 missiles -- in a move the United States said would prevent terrorists from attempting to shoot down civilian aircraft.  The missiles had been obtained from the former Soviet Union during the 1980s.

The State Department said February 24, when announcing a new U.S. agreement with Russia on controlling the shoulder-fired missiles, that their possession by "criminals, terrorists, and other non-state actors poses a serious threat to passenger air travel, the global commercial aviation industry, and military aircraft."

The United States “recognized the emergence of this threat beginning in the 1980s and has been working with other countries and international organizations to mitigate it," said the State Department.

The U.S. government provides assistance to other countries to either destroy the stocks of the missiles that are not needed for their defense, or to better secure their stockpiles, the State Department noted.  To date, over 10,500 missiles have been destroyed or disabled in 12 countries, according to the State Department.

(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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