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Monday, September 18, 2006

Colombia concerned about Venezuelan arms purchases

SINGAPORE, Sept 19 (Reuters) - Colombian Finance Minister Alberto Carrasquilla voiced concern on Tuesday about recent large weapons purchases by neighbouring Venezuela.

"Of course it's a concern," Carrasquilla told reporters, declining further comment.

This was in response to a question about Carrasquilla's assertions that investors were no longer worried about security in civil war-torn Colombia.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in the past has made favourable comments about Colombia's largest rebel group, the Marxist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

Russia has sold 24 aircraft, 53 helicopters and Kalashnikov automatic weapons to Venezuela, the world's No.5 oil exporter, for more than $3 billion in July amid protests from Washington. Last week, the U.S. military chief for Latin America said recent weapons purchases by Venezuela seemed excessive and raised worries it may be funneling arms to leftist rebels.

"It appears that the number is in excess of the number of folks they have in their active military force," U.S. Gen. John Craddock said.

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has promised to smash the rebels or force them to the negotiating table. His government has already disarmed more than 30,000 far-right paramilitaries and is in talks with a smaller rebel group, the ELN.

The FARC last week appealed to representatives from over 100 countries gathered in Cuba for a meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement to help it find a political solution to Colombia's conflict.

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