Venezuela Looking to Buy Iranian Missiles – Colombian President Says

FILE PHOTO: Colombia's President Ivan Duque. REUTERS/Luisa Gonzalez

BOGOTA, Aug 20 (Reuters) – Colombian President Ivan Duque said on Thursday that Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s administration is looking to buy Iranian missiles and is handing over weapons made in Russia and Belarus to Colombian armed groups.

Colombia does not recognize Maduro as Venezuela’s leader and Duque refers to him as a dictator. The Colombian government is among more than 50 countries that consider opposition leader Juan Guaido to be Venezuela’s president.

The Venezuelan Ministry of Information did not immediately respond to a request for comment about Duque’s remarks.

Though Venezuela has previously purchased weaponry from countries like China and Russia, Maduro’s government is mired in a long-running fiscal crisis, struggling to provide basics like fuel despite its huge oil reserves.

“There is information from international intelligence organisms that work with us which shows there is interest from the dictatorship of Nicolas Maduro in acquiring some medium and long-range missiles through Iran,” Duque said during a virtual event.

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“The information is that (the missiles) still haven’t arrived but there has been contact especially under instructions from (Venezuela Defense Minister Vladimir) Padrino,” Duque said.

Duque reiterated his frequent accusation that Maduro protects and supports former members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia rebel group who reject a 2016 peace deal and the still-active National Liberation Army guerrillas.

The neighboring countries’ 2,219 kilometer (1,380-mile) and border is home to numerous armed groups principally involved in drug trafficking and illegal gold mining.

Colombia is the top destination for Venezuelans who have fled their country in recent years. More than 1.7 million Venezuelans reside in Colombia.

(Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta in Bogota, additional reporting by Vivian Sequera in Caracas Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb Editing by Alistair Bell )

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