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Colombian military loses millions of bullets: President Petro

02-05-2024

BOGOTA: Colombia’s military has lost millions of bullets, thousands of grenades and several missiles, the nation’s president has said.

Gustavo Petro said the missing items had come to light during recent inspections of military bases.

He blamed the disappearances on internal corruption, saying military personnel sold weapons to arms traders.

His defence minister said investigations into the disappearances were under way.

“The only way to explain this type of lacking (inventory) is that there has existed, for a long time, networks of people in the armed forces and civilians dedicated to mass commercialization of arms, using legal arms from the Colombian state,” Petro told a news conference on Tuesday.

He said the missing items came to light during surprise visits to two military bases Tolemaida and La Guajira on 12 February and 1 April, respectively.

At Tolemaida, there was a shortfall of more than 808,000 bullets and nearly 10,000 fewer grenades than the inventory listed on official records.

Meanwhile at La Guajira, the discrepancies included nearly 4.2 million bullets and more than 9,300 grenades. Petro also said the base had lost two Spike missiles, 37 Nimrod missiles and 550 rocket-propelled grenades.

He told reporters that the military supplies would have been passed on to armed groups within Colombia, but could have been smuggled to Haiti or the international black market.

“The saddest thing about this is that these same munitions end up wounding and killing the same members of the military forces,” the Colombian president said.

Colombia has suffered from decades of conflict involving government forces, left-wing guerrilla groups and right-wing paramilitary forces, in which more than 450,000 people have been killed.

At the same time, members of its military forces have been convicted of a number of corruption and human rights abuse charges.

Defence Minister Ivan Velasquez told the same news conference that investigations into the missing items had begun and that some officials had been moved from their posts.

He added that further inspections of military bases across the country were being planned.

The Colombian military is one of the best equipped in the region. It has received billions of dollars from the United States to tackle drug cartels.

Colombia’s civil conflict has lasted more than five decades, drawing in left-wing rebels and right-wing paramilitaries.

The rebels have been weakened and the paramilitary forces officially demobilized. However, recent years have seen the emergence of criminal gangs who have moved in to take over drug-trafficking operations previously run by the paramilitaries.

The Colombian government says these criminal bands, which it calls “Bacrims”, are now a major threat.

The group was founded in 1964, when it declared its intention to overthrow the government and install a Marxist regime but tactics changed in the 1990s, as right-wing paramilitary forces attacked the rebels, and the Farc became increasingly involved in the drug trade to raise money for its campaign.

President Alvaro Uribe, who swept to power in 2002 vowing to defeat the rebels and was re-elected in 2006, launched an unprecedented offensive against the Farc, backed by US military aid. (Int’l Monitoring Desk)

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