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Venezuela ready to buy MiG-29s to strengthen Colombia's border

The purchase would be in addition to the announced acquisition of Russian attack helicopters. Chavez's government wants to reduce dependency from US/European weaponry.

Shortly after Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez Frias announced his government was ready to buy $40 million in Russian helicopters to protect country's fragile borders with Colombia, it's been announced that the South American nation is weighing purchasing MIG-29 aircraft fighters. According to sources in Caracas, a top officer confirmed the information as one of the options Venezuela's high command is studying to strengthen its air forces. If the deal is finally closed, Russian MIGs would replace the US-made F-16 combat aircraft which are being used now.

Gen. Melvin Lopez told foreign press that President Hugo Chavez's government had decided to diversify arms procurement by the world's No. 5 oil exporter, which has been largely dependent in the past on weapons sold by the United States and its European allies. "There are a number of arms systems that we have been evaluating ... logically this includes the MiG-29s," said Lopez, who is secretary general of the National Defense Council responsible for Venezuela's strategic military planning.

Both announcements came shortly after Colombian irregular forces killed five Venezuelan soldiers and one oil engineer in confusing episodes in the border between both countries. The incident also sparked a bitter discussion between neighbours, as while Caracas blames far-right paramilitary groups operating in Colombia for the attack, Bogota insists leftist guerrillas were behind them.

Disputes over security have often strained ties between Caracas and Bogota. Chavez has accused the Colombian government of not doing enough to stop its war against left-wing guerrillas and right-wing paramilitaries from spilling over into Venezuela.

Lopez said Venezuela was reinforcing border security as part of wider steps to bolster its armed forces. In May, Venezuela asked US military personnel to leave liaison offices at armed forces bases around the country after the government denounced Washington was supporting local opponent's plans to overthrow Chavez.

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