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U.S. eyes Venezuela weapons buy

MIAMI, May 31 (UPI) -- The United States is concerned about Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's purchases of advanced shoulder-fired missiles, officials say.

The U.S. State Department says such anti-aircraft weapons could wind up in the hands of Colombia's leftist rebels after "credible" evidence surfaced that three top Caracas officials allegedly offered to help the rebels procure shoulder-fired missiles in 2007, The Miami Herald reported.

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"We are concerned about Venezuelan arms purchases that exceed its needs and are therefore potentially destabilizing," State Department spokeswoman Sara Mangiaracina told the newspaper. "The Man-Portable Air Defense Systems Venezuela have purchased from Russia are sophisticated weapons systems. It is important that these weapons systems be appropriately controlled to avoid the possibility of diversion."

She said that if the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, were to obtain the weapons, it would dramatically escalate the 45-year-old conflict, which in recent years has seen Colombia use slow-moving ground-attack warplanes and U.S.-made helicopters to deal severe blows to the rebels, the Herald reported.

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