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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

US, Nicaragua Head for Conflict Over Old Missiles

Reuters: The United States told Nicaragua on Feb. 5 to destroy Soviet-era anti-aircraft missiles, setting up its first fight with old Cold War foe President Daniel Ortega since he returned to office last month.

Ortega, a former Marxist guerrilla, said on Feb. 2 that Nicaragua should keep its arsenal of more than 1,000 SAM-7 missiles because Washington was giving planes to neighbor Honduras.

The United States says it has given Honduras money to buy eight light aircraft to detect drug smugglers and help in natural disasters.

"The U.S. government hopes Nicaragua will continue down the path it has begun of disarmament and destruction of the SAM-7 missiles," the U.S. Embassy in Managua said in a statement posted on its Web site,
To placate Washington, which says the shoulder-fired missiles could be used by terrorists against airliners, Nicaragua destroyed 1,000 missiles in 2004 out of the 2,000 donated by the Soviet Union when Ortega’s Marxist government was fighting a 1980s civil war against U.S.-backed rebels.

But Ortega, who won November’s presidential election, said Nicaragua should still not drop its defenses while Honduras and El Salvador had much stronger air power.

"If on the one hand they are going to renovate the Honduran air force, an air force of war, a military air force, and on the other hand they are going to ask us to destroy the rockets, it would be absurd, inconceivable," Ortega said.
Honduras and Nicaragua have a dispute over maritime limits in the Caribbean which is being heard at the International Court of Justice in The Hague. Ortega has said he wants good relations with the United States in his second term in office and has told U.S. businessmen their investments are safe in Nicaragua, but he has also formed an alliance with Venezuela’s anti-U.S. president, Hugo Chavez.

Nicaragua’s military has Soviet-made attack helicopters and Antonov transport planes but no fighters or bombers.

The Nicaraguan Congress is considering a proposal by former President Enrique Bolanos to destroy a further 650 of the missiles, keeping the remaining 400 for self-defense purposes.
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