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Colombia and Venezuela face off

Tensions rise as Colombia accuses Venezuela of supplying Swedish weapons to rebels.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez talks to a soldier while holding a rocket launcher in a file photo taken in 2001. Colombia charges that the Venezuelan army has provided similar weapons to Colombia's rebels. (STR/Reuters)

CARACAS, Venezuela — The discovery in a rebel camp of anti-tank rocket launchers that appear to have come from the Venezuelan army has heightened tensions between Venezuela and Colombia, who found themselves on the brink of war last year.

The Colombian government Monday claimed it found in a raid on a FARC guerrilla camp in the remote southeast of the country last year three AT-4 rocket launchers with serial numbers that connect them to the Venezuelan army.

The manufacturer of the weapons, Swedish company Saab Bofors Dynamics, confirmed via the Swedish Foreign Ministry that the serial numbers on the arms matched a sale it made to Venezuela in the 1980s.

The AT-4 rocket launchers are easily portable weapons that would permit guerrilla groups to attack tanks and fortified installations.

The revelation strengthens claims by Bogota that Venezuela and its allies have been actively supporting the left-wing terrorist group which has carried out a bloody insurrection in Colombia for more than 50 years, said Rocio San Miguel, President of Control Ciudadano, an NGO that monitors Venezuela’s armed forces.

“This is the most serious incident to have occurred in Colombian-Venezuelan relations in the last 10 years, above all because for this type of weapon to arrive in the hands of the FARC suggests the compliance of senior military officers,” she said.

“For rifles or other types of weapons to disappear and end up in FARC hands could happen in various military scenarios but for anti-tank rocket launchers to reach the FARC it is obvious that there is some kind of involvement at senior levels of the armed forces.”

The Swedish government, which could also find itself accused of being complicit in selling arms to a terrorist group according to European Union laws, has made a formal request to the Venezuelan government, asking it to clarify how the weapons ended up in Colombia. San Miguel said that other countries — such as Spain, which has ignored a request by the U.S. to embargo arms sales to Venezuela — might review their policies in light of the new evidence.

But Venezuela’s Foreign Minister, Nicolas Maduro, accused Colombia and its ally the United States of subversive motives in the accusations.

“This is part of a dirty and vulgar campaign that seeks to justify the installation of U.S. military bases in Colombian territory,” he said. “They are trying to do the same as they did with Iraq when they accused it of having weapons of mass destruction, an argument that allowed the United States to invade that country and take its oil.”