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U.S. Wants Nicaragua to Destroy Missiles

November 04, 2003|Paul Richter | Times Staff Writer

MANAGUA, Nicaragua — Secretary of State Colin L. Powell on Monday urged Nicaragua to destroy its thousands of shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles, in a new sign of U.S. concern over the type of weapon that killed 16 U.S. troops Sunday in Iraq.

During a two-day swing through Central America, Powell told Nicaraguan President Enrique Bolanos that the Bush administration feared missiles were a prime tool for terrorists.

"We feel very strongly that they should be eliminated in their totality," Powell told Bolanos during a meeting with reporters. "I don't believe they add any security" for Nicaragua, he said, but are instead "a burden."

Bolanos, however, said his government needed more time to study the issue.

The missiles, also known as manpads -- for man-portable air defense systems -- use heat-seeking sensors to find and destroy low-flying aircraft.

U.S. authorities have sought to buy or seize the tens of thousands of such weapons thought to be dispersed around the world. But U.S. concern has been growing since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Nicaragua was sent thousands of the missiles during the 1980s, when it had a Marxist Sandinista leadership and a military alliance with the Soviet Union. More recently, Nicaragua has become a source of weapons for terrorists in Colombia. U.S. officials fear the missiles could be used against helicopters there, including those that the Pentagon has supplied to its Colombian government allies.

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