English translation small arms newsletter of the
German Campaign against small arms
August 2007

Una Historia de la Violencia
German Small Arms in Colombia

by Roman Deckert

A recent incident in Colombia has highlighted the fact that German small arms still serve as weapons of mass destruction in the World’s longest ongoing civil war which has left hundreds of thousands of people dead since 1948. In June 2007 the Colombian Police confiscated a number of G3 assault rifles from the rightwing militia of the "Aguilas Negras" in the north-eastern Province of Cesar, bordering Venezuela.

Small arms from Oberndorf, a picturesque town in Southern Germany, have got a long and devastating history in Colombia. Only a few years after the conflict - called "La Violencia" – between the government, leftwing rebels and peasants broke out, the notorious German company Fritz-Werner helped the Colombian Ministry of Defence to set up its own military industry, the company Industria Militar (Indumil). In 1955 Fritz-Werner, itself then owned by the West German government, delivered machinery for the production of Mauser-rifles to the Fábrica General José María Córdova in Soacha on the outskirts of Bogotá. Internal documents from Fritz-Werner provide evidence that a large commission was paid into Swiss bank accounts.

However, the Mauser-carbines soon could not satisfy the demand of the Colombian army any more. The generals in Bogotá instead turned to the automatic G3 of Heckler & Koch – like Mauser situated in Oberndorf - as their new standard weapon. Between 1967 and 1975 the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Bonn allowed Heckler & Koch the export of 55.200 G3, 3.121 MP5 submachine guns und 1.500 HK21 machine guns "because of political considerations of special nature" and with respect to the "traditional relations in that field". The diplomats in their pursuit to support the fight for "law and order" in Colombia also gave green light to the companies of Dynamit-Nobel, Industriewerke Karlsruhe (IWKA) and Metallwerk Elisenhütte Nassau (MEN), a subsidiary of Fritz-Werner, for the sale of more than 110 Million rounds of ammunition during that period of time.

But even those massive transfers were not enough for the Ministry of Defence in Bogotá. A letter from the directorate of Heckler & Koch to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Bonn dated 1975 gives evidence that Indumil by then had purchased the licence to manufacture G3, MP5 and HK21. The records of the Ministry prove that Indumil at least produced the G3, with components imported from Oberndorf. The machinery was supplied by Heckler & Koch and Fritz-Werner. The latter was also allowed to sell equipment for the production of ammunition to Indumilas well as the necessary raw material. The West German diplomats used the activities of the state owned company Fritz-Werner as a discreet loophole in the laws that restricted the export of German arms: "Transfers of this kind make Colombia independent of imports of ammunition which helps us to reach our goal of stopping the export of arms and ammunition to countries like Colombia."

The result was a further escalation of the violent conflicts in Colombia, all the more dramatic since other war parties also acquired the G3 which was dearly nicknamed by Bundeswehr-troops as "the bride of the German soldier". According to the renowned small arms expert Edward Ezell, Colombian drug lords purchased Portuguese-made G3 seized in Angola from Cuba. In 1989 1.000 G3 from Portuguese licence production destined for leftwing guerrillas were confiscated in the Jamaican capital of Kingston. The proliferation went on and on. In 2003 the Colombian media reported about the smuggling of G3 and HK33 assault rifles from Ecuador. A UN-report in 2006 mentioned the illicit import of G3 originating from stocks of the Peruvian national guard.

The G3 continued to be the main weapon of the Colombian army until the Nineties. Today its soldiers use the Israeli Galil as their standard rifle, produced under licence by Indumil. Nevertheless, Heckler & Koch rifles are still in service. According to its own internet homepage Indumilīs arms plant in Soacha still does repair work on G3. In May 2007 it published an invitation of tenders for spare parts to maintain the machinery of Fritz-Werner. Disused G3 were not all scrapped, some ended up on the black market. For instance, the "Aguilas Negras" had received G3 from a corrupt police officer. The German government must face up to its historical responsibility. Therefore it should give massive support to disarmament programmes in Colombia.


is a researcher in the Berlin Information-center for Transatlantic Security (BITS). He writes his PhD-thesis on the history of German-Sudanese Relations.