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Colombia will delay purchase of anti-aircraft missile system -minister

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BOGOTA (Reuters) – Colombia has no immediate plans to buy an anti-aircraft missile defence system to modernize its air force due to budget constraints, the defence minister said on Tuesday.

Military sources said last week the country was looking into the possibility of acquiring a system, though President Ivan Duque said the eventual purchase of equipment would not be part of an arms race.

“We are not going to invest 1.1 trillion pesos ($367.4 million) in anti-aircraft defence for the time being, because among other reasons, we do not have the budget,” Defense Minister Guillermo Botero said during an appearance before Congress.

Sources told Reuters last week that manufacturers from the United States, France and Israel were in the running to provide the system.

Before the global fall in oil prices, Colombia made some 20 percent of its national income from crude sales. The economy is still recovering from the fall.

The purchase would be part of a renewal programme for air force equipment and arms. Despite a 2016 peace agreement with the longtime FARC rebels, Colombia’s military remains at war with the National Liberation Army (ELN) rebels, drug-trafficking crime gangs and dissident FARC who refused to demobilize under the peace deal.

In 2005 Colombia bought 25 Super Tucano A-29B planes from Brazil’s Embraer for $234.5 million, its largest-ever military purchase. At the beginning of 2015 the Andean country added 32 Canadian-made armored vehicles to a unit close to the border with Venezuela, at a cost of $84 million.

($1 = 2,993.74 Colombian pesos)

(Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta; Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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