January 21, 2003

OAS report blames Nicaragua for rifle deal

3,000 Kalashnikovs went to Colombian paramilitaries

PANAMA CITY, Panama (AP) --An Organization of American States report released
Monday accused Nicaragua of negligence for authorizing a deal that allowed 3,000
Kalashnikov rifles meant for Panama to go to a Colombian paramilitary militia.

The Washington-based OAS faulted Nicaragua for not doing more to verify the
authenticity of falsified Panamanian purchase orders it used to go ahead with the

"To base this deal on only one purchase order not verified by any documentation
... is unprofessional and unbelievable," said the report, which Panamanian officials
had asked OAS investigators to compile.

The report largely absolved Panama, saying its government had very little to do
with the deal and only became embroiled in the subsequent scandal because
names of its police officials appeared on false documents.

The scandal erupted in November 2001, after a Mexican-crewed ship under the
Panamanian flag, unloaded more than 3,000 Kalashnikov rifles and some 5 million
rounds of ammunition at a small Colombian.

The guns wound up in the hands of the right-wing paramilitary group the United
Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, which is battling leftist rebels and has been
linked to human rights abuses.

Nicaraguan officials acknowledged selling the guns -- at about a tenth of their
market value -- but had claimed Panamanian police documents they were shown
were real. Panama had maintained the documents were forgeries.

In Managua, the Foreign Ministry released a statement Monday night saying
Nicaragua's government "fell victim to the actions of organized crime" and that it
would have to "refocus efforts to combat" those groups that control weapons
smuggling gangs.

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press.