(photo credit: AP)
Colombian rebels in northern Ecuador are an old problem that previous governments failed to confront, Ecuador's defense minister told The Associated Press, announcing additions to a growing arsenal aimed at securing the Andean nation's borders.
Defense Minister Javier Ponce said in an interview that the government is buying six Israeli-made unmanned aerial vehicles and new radar so it can get a better handle on its borders, especially the troubled frontier with Colombia.
The acquisitions are in addition to 24 Super Tucano warplanes announced in May.
He said he does not consider Colombia a national security threat, though the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia that dominates the northern border zone - and the illegal drug trade that fuels its insurgency - are a danger.
"We are not able to impede the establishment of guerrilla camps or drug labs, but to the degree that we have been dismantling a series of labs and camps we are establishing a certain capacity to prevent this from getting out of control," Ponce told the AP on Tuesday evening.
Ecuador's military radar on the Colombian border was turned off on March 1 when Colombia bombed a rebel camp just inside Ecuador, Ponce said.
Ecuador broke diplomatic ties with Colombia over the attack, which killed a top rebel and 24 others.
Colombia's armed forces chief, Gen. Freddy Padilla, told the AP in Bogota earlier this month that the Ecuadorean side of the 400-mile (640-kilometer) jungle border is dotted with cocaine laboratories and rebel camps while the Colombian side is a sea of coca cultivation.
Ponce did not deny that, calling the presence of the rebels, known as the FARC, in the region "an old problem" that previous Ecuadorean government failed to confront.
A poet and close adviser of leftist President Rafael Correa, Ponce was named defense minister in April in a shake-up of Ecuador's armed forces.
On Tuesday, he also said that he is investigating Ecuador's military intelligence apparatus over its failure to inform the Correa government of FARC and Colombian armed forces movements - accusing them of sharing such information with the United States instead.
Ponce did not specify the value of the new military purchases, though he did say Ecuador was paying US$270 million for the Super Tucanos.
He would not say whether any of the unmanned aerial vehicles - "four tactical and two strategic planes" - would carry armament.
The turboprop Super Tucano, made by Embraer of Brazil, is the same plane Colombia used in the March 1 raid.