Nicaragua Offers to Give Up Soviet-Era Missiles for Medical Aid, Helicopters

Associated Press
Wednesday, August 1, 2007

MANAGUA, Nicaragua, July 31 -- Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega offered Tuesday to hand over 651 Soviet-made surface-to-air missiles to the United States in exchange for military helicopters, surgical supplies and medicine.

Ortega said the medical supplies were needed to treat chronic illnesses caused by the U.S.-made pesticide Nemagon, used decades ago on the country's banana plantations. The helicopters would be used to fight drug traffickers, he said.

"This won't be a gift, but simply a barter with them," Ortega said.

Cristina Stewart, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Nicaragua, said the United States would be willing to consider Ortega's proposal.

"The United States is always willing to talk about these issues . . . because the missile problem is of international interest," Stewart said.

The United States has been campaigning to rid Latin America of portable arms that could fall into the hands of terrorists.

The Soviet Union supplied the missiles to Nicaragua in the 1980s, when Ortega's leftist Sandinista government was fighting a U.S.-organized rebel army known as the contras.

Nicaraguan officials have destroyed about half of their initial stock of about 2,000 SAM-7 missiles. Ortega has said his government will keep about 400 of the missiles if the swap goes through.

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