English translation small arms newsletter of the
German Campaign against small arms
March 2008

HK33: German Arms in Ecuador

by Roman Deckert

In early March 2008 an international war was looming in South America when the Colombian army killed the No. 2 commander of the FARC-rebels, Raúl Reyes, on Ecuadorian territory. The governments of Ecuador and Venezuela immediately deployed massive numbers of troops to the border with Colombia and warned against further incursions. Pictures of the mobilization show that the Ecuadorian soldiers were equipped with HK33 assault-rifles of the German gun maker Heckler & Koch. Only a few weeks before the Ministry of Defence had organised a shooting exercise with HK33-rifles for a group of journalists.

Although the presidents of the three countries bizarrely declared the confrontation to be settled soon later at a summit in the Dominican Republic, the conflict may break out anew at any moment in a region awash with small arms. In 1995 a border-conflict between Ecuador and Peru escalated into full-scale combat - the Cenepa-War – which caused an estimated 500 casualties within one month. The Ecuadorian infantry was using its HK33-rifles (calibre 5,56mm), an offspring of Heckler & Koch’s worldwide bestseller G3 (7,62mm), during that war.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Quito declares on its website that the Armed Forces had replaced its Belgian FAL-rifles with about 30.000 HK33 in 1994. It claims the deal with Germany ("con Alemania") had been fully within the legal framework. According to Jane’s Defence those weapons had been assembled in England. Heckler & Koch has been using this roundabout way systematically in order to evade German export restrictions (see "Germany’s Unseen Hand in Kenya Crisis" - www.africanexecutive.com/modules/magazine/articles.php?article=2868).

During the Cenepa-War Chile provided another 3.000 HK33 as the then Chief of Staff of the Ecuadorian army Victor Bayas stated in a subsequent trial on illegal arms deals with Argentina. Chile had purchased those HK33 under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. They were apparently sold by Thailand where Heckler & Koch had set up a licence-production for HK33 since 1971. The West German embassy in Bangkok reported in 1975 about rumours of an export of 4.000 HK33 to Chile which was later confirmed.

Just like in Asia and Africa Heckler & Koch’s globalised business policies has had the result in Latin America too that warring parties from all sides are in possession of small arms from Oberndorf. The Peruvian army was fighting with G3-rifles of unknown origin during the Cenepa-War. The Colombian military ran a licence-production of its own and used the G3 as its standard-weapon up to the Mid-Nineties. Since then it has replaced most of them with Israeli Galil-rifles, but there are still scores of G3 in service, not least in the hands of left-wing insurgents and right-wing militias. In 2003 press reports emerged about the trafficking of G3 and HK33 from Ecuador which according to the Small Arms Survey is suffering from the highest rate of deadly incidents involving fire-arms on the continent. In 2006 a UN-report highlighted the smuggle of G3 from the depots of the Peruvian National Guard to Colombia (see "Una Historia de la Violencia" - www.bits.de/public/articles/kleinwaffen-nl08-07eng.htm).

Heckler & Koch has stopped its HK33-production a few years ago, but still in 1998 it has given an HK33-licence to the Turkish ordnance factory Makina ve Kimya Endüstrisi Kurumu (MKEK). The president of the German Information Office on Armament, Jürgen Grässlin, found out during research in Turkey that Ecuador has been a customer of the state-owned MKEK. Chile has recently armed its soldiers with modern rifles from Heckler & Koch of the G36-model which is also produced in Spain under licence. Thus it seems only a matter of time until the new bestseller from Oberndorf will proliferate as much as the G3 and HK33.


is a small arms researcher at the Berlin Information-Centre for Transatlantic Security (BITS) and a board-member of the Information-Office on Armor (RIB e.V.), Freiburg i.Br.