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28 January 2005

U.S. Commends Nicaragua for Recovering Missile

Missing anti-aircraft missile found during criminal investigation

By Eric Green
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- The U.S. State Department has commended Nicaragua for recovering one of its missing shoulder-fired missiles that can be used against commercial aircraft.

At his regular press briefing January 27, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the United States congratulated Nicaraguan authorities for recovering one of the missiles (known as MANPADS) during a criminal investigation that was aided by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.  MANPADS stands for "man-portable air defense systems."

Boucher said the United States is very concerned about MANPADS, and has been working worldwide with individual countries and a number of organizations, such as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, to keep the missiles from criminals or terrorists.

The State Department spokesman said the United States, through the State Department's Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement, would continue to work with the Nicaraguan government to help the Central American nation destroy its stockpile of MANPADS.  Boucher said the weapons removal office at the State Department is responsible for obtaining foreign governments' cooperation in destroying their excess MANPADS, as well as securing these weapons against theft.

Boucher said Nicaragua's President Enrique Bolanos gave assurances to President Bush and former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell in 2003 that Nicaragua would destroy all of its man-portable air defense systems in order to reduce the chance that they might fall into the hands of criminals or terrorists.

"And we commend Nicaraguan authorities for successfully recovering one of their MANPADS, in this case a Russian-made SA-7, during a criminal investigation that culminated this month," said Boucher.

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

In response to a question during his briefing about whether other MANPADS might be missing, the State Department's Boucher said there were reports of allegations or suspicions of "some stockpile that's held by the [Nicaraguan] military or other parties."  Because of this, Boucher said, the United States had asked the government of Nicaragua "to look into that and to investigate and find out whether, indeed, there might be some of these that have gone missing or might be in the wrong hands."

News reports said Nicaragua's Bolanos has ordered a thorough investigation of whether any more MANPADS are missing.

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

(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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