Colombia says uranium find points to FARC's dangerous ambition

Thu Mar 27, 11:03 PM ET

Colombia's FARC rebels may have intended to use low-grade uranium in a "dirty bomb" to bill themselves as international terrorists, the government said Thursday after announcing it found a stash of the radioactive material.

The Colombian Defense Ministry said 30 kilograms (66 pounds) of uranium were found along a roadside in a Bogota slum after two rebels tipped authorities to their whereabouts. On Tuesday, a laboratory said a sample it analyzed was depleted uranium.

The find confirmed earlier government reports that the rebels were looking to buy uranium, after computer files seized in a rebel camp inside Ecuador yielded messages to that effect. The files were captured in a Colombian cross-border raid on March 1.

Armed with the computer evidence, Colombian Vice President Francisco Santos, a few days later at the UN Disarmament Conference in Geneva, accused the rebel group of seeking radioactive material "to make dirty weapons to destroy and terrorize."

National Police Chief Oscar Naranjo said "FARC are taking crucial steps in the world of terrorism to make themselves known as a great international, global aggressor.

"We're not just talking about a domestic guerrilla group," he said, before calling for a "continental effort ... to neutralize FARC's terrorist activities."

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the country's largest rebel group, has been fighting to overthrow the Bogota government for more than 40 years, and recently struck a relationship with leftist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Chavez, who backed Ecuador in its week-long row with Colombia over the cross-border raid, sympathises with the FARC, which he claims have legitimate "belligerent status," instead of the terrorist label the United States, Europe and Colombia give it.

After Colombia's cross-border raid, which according to Bogota was carried out with US intelligence support, Chavez accused the United States of provoking the crisis.

On Thursday during a visit to Brazil, Chavez dismissed the uranium find and, implicitly referring to the United States, warned that "there are still some flames flickering (from the earlier crisis).

"We're certain there are powerful interests wanting to destabilize our regions ... we're still getting statements ... provocations," he said, noting with irony that the information on the uranium stash had conveniently come from "that magical computer."

The director of the Ingeominas laboratory, Mario Ballesteros, said a proper reading of the radioactive level of the seized uranium would come over the weekend, adding that the population was not at risk from the mere presence of depleted uranium.

Depleted uranium can be used in a "dirty bomb" to disseminate cancer-causing radioactivity, although France's Institute of International and Strategic Relations Director Georges Le Guelte said: "Nobody really knows how efficient a device of that sort can be."

The material is a residue of the enriching and reprocessing of uranium. It has a low-level of radioactivity and can be used to make anti-tank ammunition and aircraft cannons capable of penetrating armor.

The explosion of depleted uranium shells, which have been used by the US military and other armies in Iraq, creates a dust that some medical experts say may be harmful to health.

The two informants who led Colombian authorities to the uranium were close to a rebel leader known as "Belisario," who is also mentioned in the captured computer belonging to FARC's second-in-command Raul Reyes, said Armed Forces Commander General Freddy Padilla.

Reyes was killed in the March 1 raid.

A FARC statement issued after the raid dismissed Bogota's uranium allegations.

"Only developed countries like the United States and others have the required conditions and technology to process uranium, and not a guerrilla group that is still fighting for the dignity of a people with rifles and even sticks," it said.

Source: Yahoo News