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Colombia’s plan to replace fighter planes hits a snag

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BOGOTA — Initial negotiations between Colombia, France’s Dassault Aviation and Sweden’s Saab AB to replace part of the South American country’s aging air force fleet have collapsed, the defense minister said on Monday.

Colombia, which uses about 20 Israeli-made Kfir aircraft purchased three decades ago, has said replacing the planes is a priority so it can continue to defend its territory, fight organized crime and conduct aerial surveillance.

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“Unfortunately in the pre-negotiations that took place at the end of (last) year, we did not manage to confirm with the French or with the Swedish,” Defense Minister Ivan Velasquez told local radio, adding the $678 million spending approval for the planes has expired.

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The manufacturers were not interested in an initial sale of three to five airplanes using the budget approved by the previous government, he added, but instead wanted to negotiate for a total of 16 planes.

There will be continued efforts this year to see if a purchase is possible, Velasquez said.

Colombia said last month it had shortlisted a Dassault bid to sell 16 Rafale fighter planes for some $3 billion and considered two other bids from the United States and Sweden, which offered deals for F-16 and Gripen aircraft.

There have been efforts by various Colombian administrations to replace the Kfir planes for at least 12 years, though the change has been stymied by financial limitations.

The country’s internal armed conflict between the government, leftist rebels and crime gangs run by former right-wing paramilitaries has stretched for nearly 60 years and killed at least 450,000 people. (Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta in Caracas Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb Editing by Matthew Lewis)

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