U.S. Applauds Nicaragua's Partial Destruction of Missile Stockpile

Air defense missiles called threat to civil aviation

By Eric Green
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- The United States has praised Nicaragua's decision to destroy a portion of its shoulder-fired air defense missiles, which were obtained from the former Soviet Union in the 1980s.

The State Department said in a statement issued prior to Nicaragua's May 4 destruction of 333 surface-to-air missiles that the weapons have been "actively sought" and used by terrorist organizations to attack civil aviation, specifically in Kenya in 2002. Following that incident, the United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution condemning the November 28, 2002, attempted missile attack on an Israeli airliner departing Mombassa, Kenya.

The State Department said in its April 27 statement that the shoulder-fired air defense missiles (known as "manpads") were dangerous weapons. "We applaud Nicaragua's decision to eliminate" a portion of its missile stockpile, the State Department said. The acronym "manpads" stands for "man-portable air defense system."

The State Department said it is working with other countries in the region and around the world to reduce the threat of these missiles. A U.S. contractor is scheduled to carry out the destruction of the missiles in cooperation with the Nicaraguan government, the State Department said.

News reports said Nicaraguan President Enrique Bolanos destroyed the missiles as a "genuine indication of our interest in reaching a regional balance of weapons in Central America." Bolanos' government also said it planned to destroy more of the missiles in July.

Nicaragua reportedly has some 2,000 surface-to-air weapons. The missiles were obtained from the Soviet Union during the Cold War era of the 1980s, when the left-wing Sandinista government then in power in Nicaragua was fighting a civil war against right-wing rebels.

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

Powell said 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.

Powell praised Nicaragua's Bolanos for demonstrating leadership on security issues by encouraging the region's other heads of state to reduce their defense expenditures and establish a reasonable balance of defense forces in Central America. Powell said this adjustment was a natural extension of increased integration and cooperation in the region, and a recognition of the changing threats facing Central America.

"The Nicaraguan people and the people in other nations in Central America should be more worried about narco-trafficking and terrorists than they should be about being invaded by a neighbor," Powell said November 4. He suggested that the security initiative that Bolanos had presented to his Central American counterparts "reflects the new reality" in the region.

Created: 06 May 2004 Updated: 06 May 2004

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