Colombia's Petro says armed forces' bullets, missiles stolen due to corruption

FILE PHOTO: Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva visits Bogota
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BOGOTA (Reuters) -Colombia's President Gustavo Petro said on Tuesday that an inventory of military weapons showed over a million bullets, thousands of explosives, including grenades, and some missiles were missing from military bases, blaming corruption for the lost weapons.

He has ordered any corruption networks within the security forces to be dismantled, Petro added in a joint statement with the defense minister and the head of the armed forces, saying judicial authorities were investigating the issue.

"The only way to explain this type of lacking (inventory) is that there has existed, for a long time, networks of people in the armed forces and civilians dedicated to mass commercialization of arms, using legal arms from the Colombian state," Petro said.

The weapons will have gone to Colombian armed groups, the president said, and may have been smuggled to Haiti or put on the international black market for weapons.

"We must, undoubtedly, completely separate the armed forces, as with any branch of public power, from any incident of corruption. That is the only way to guarantee the safety of our citizens and of the armed forces themselves."

More than 1.3 million 5.56mm bullets are missing from inventories at two military bases in Tolemaida in central Colombia and La Guajira province, along with hundreds of thousands of bullets of other calibres, Petro said.

Two Spike missiles - anti-tank weapons manufactured in Israel - are also gone, Petro said, along with 37 Nimrod missiles, which are also made in Israel.

Thousands of grenades and mortar rounds of various sizes and 550 rocket-propelled grenade launchers are also missing.

Investigations are underway, Defense Minister Ivan Velasquez told journalists, and some officials have been moved from certain posts.

The military was tracing what officials were responsible for dozens of weapons storage areas, he said, and more inventories are planned nationally.

Members of Colombia's security forces have been convicted over the years on a variety of corruption and human rights abuse charges.

The country's six-decade internal conflict has killed more than 450,000 people.

(Reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb; editing by Jonathan Oatis)