Nicaragua, US discuss swapping arms, medical tech

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MANAGUA, Oct 3 (Reuters) Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega began talks with US government officials today over his offer to destroy hundreds of old anti-aircraft missiles in exchange for US medical equipment.

Ortega, a US Cold War foe who led Nicaragua's 1979 Sandinista revolution and was voted back to power last year on a peace platform, yesterday said the swap would be ''a small contribution to peace and security in the world.'' He was speaking after talks in the Nicaraguan capital with a US mission led by State Department official Richard Kidd, in charge of the weapons removal office.

Washington has long been pressuring Nicaragua to destroy or hand over more than 1,000 shoulder-filed Soviet missiles which it fears could find their way into the hands of terrorists trying to shoot down airliners.

Nicaragua has already destroyed half of the 2,000 missiles supplied by the former Soviet Union in the 1980s when the young Ortega's Marxist government forces were fighting US-backed Contra rebels.

In July, Ortega offered to turn over another 650 of the missiles in exchange for medical technology and keep the rest for self-defense purposes. He also said he would accept helicopters in return for the missiles.

REUTERS SG HT0900

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