Sekeramayi denies Zim helped Colombian rebels

Dumisani Muleya

DEFENCE minister Sydney Sekeramayi has dismissed as an “absolute fabrication” reports that Zimbabwe was involved in the covert supply of arms to rebels in Colombia.


<
FONT face=”Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif”>Sekeramayi said media reports in North and South America were part of a “smear campaign” against the government.


“It’s a smear campaign by those opposed to the government of Zimbabwe,” Sekeramayi said this week. “There is absolutely no truth in it whatsoever. It actually emanates from the usual hostile quarters that we all know.”


Reports last month in Ecuador, Colombia and Miami, United States, said the weapons, worth US$240 000, had been transferred in 2000 from Ecuador to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc), the main anti-government guerilla movement in Colombia.


El Nuevo Herald, a Spanish language sister paper of the Miami Herald, reported from the Colombian capital Bogata last month that documents in its possession showed that the armaments, originally belonging to the Ecuadorean Air Force, had been sold fictitiously to Zimbabwe Defence Industries, but had in fact been transferred to Farc.


Some of the weapons were reportedly to be used in an assassination attempt on the Colombian president Alvaro Uribe, and had also been used in more recent attacks against armed forces in Colombia.


Farc and other guerrilla groups have been fighting the Colombian government for four decades in a bid to seize power. The rumbling war is inextricably entwined with Colombia’s vast drugs trade.The arms – M-72-A2 rockets and cluster bombs – were originally bought by Ecuador in 1977.


In 2000, the then Ecuadorean minister of defence, Admiral Hugo Unda, decommissioned the weapons as “obsolete”, and arranged for them to be “sold to Zimbabwe”, using the Brazilian company ATR as an intermediary, at a considerable discount to their real value of US$3 million, the reports claim.


ATR has denied any involvement in the deal. But El Nuevo Herald said the arms were transported in an Ilyushin 76 aircraft – registration number UR 76767 – which left Russia, landed in Mexico en route to Ecuador, and then filed a false flight plan from the Ecuadorean military base at Taura to Chile, Brazil, Angola and finally Zimbabwe.


The shipment, however, was in fact only flown as far as Iquique in Chile, and was then ferried to various places in Colombia by a fleet of smaller planes.


Another figure accused of being at the centre of the deal is the Anglican bishop of the Ecuadorean capital Quito, Walter Crespo Guarderas, who is currently being held there in prison, and is said to have brokered the arrangement.


Guarderas recently admitted having links to Farc but denied involvement in the arms shipment, saying that a confession he had made had been extracted from him using drugs placed in his food while he was incarcerated.