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Friday, December 08, 2006

Brazil delivers warplanes to Colombia, FARC upset

GAVIAO PEIXOTO, Brazil (Reuters): Brazil delivered five military planes to Colombia on Thursday in a move that Colombia's biggest rebel group characterized as meddling in its four-decade fight to establish a socialist state.

The Super Tucano turboprop planes, made by Embraer, are part of a bigger order of 25 aircraft worth $235 million.

Brazil uses them for training pilots and surveillance over its vast Amazon region, which borders Colombia.

"The Colombian air force chose the Super Tucano as the most efficient option for the important mission of internal security," Embraer quoted Colombian Gen. Ricardo Rubianogroot as saying in a statement.

Brazil's O Estado de S. Paulo newspaper quoted Raul Reyes, a spokesman for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, as saying the deal represented an "unacceptable meddling in the revolutionary struggle."

He told the daily that arms deals between Brazil, whose President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has a leftist background, and Colombia were "disappointing."

The FARC recently sent greetings to Lula after his re-election in October and hailed last month's election of leftist Rafael Correa as president of Ecuador and Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, as an example of the "new political winds blowing in Latin America".

Leftist Hugo Chavez won re-election as president of Venezuela on Sunday and was in Brazil on Thursday to discuss cooperation. A year ago, the United States blocked the sale of Tucanos to Venezuela because they use U.S. components.

Armed with two machine guns, the planes are mainly used to prepare pilots for jet fighters, although they can also serve as light attack aircraft able to carry 1.5 tonnes of bombs or rockets.

One military expert played down the military importance of the contract.

"This is much ado about nothing. These are primarily cheap training planes and after all, Colombia needs training planes," said the Brazilian expert, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Embraer vice president for defense sales, Luiz Carlos Aguiar, said the company was hoping to win a tender to sell 36 planes to Turkey next year. The share of revenue from military products is about 10 percent of the total at the world's No. 4 civil aircraft maker.
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