Washington's worries grow about Colombian rebels

Xxxzx Xyyxyz musides at SPAMadelaide.on.net
Wed Aug 11 03:34:50 MDT 1999


Top envoy visits as Washington's worries grow about Colombian rebels

August 10, 1999
  Web posted at:  6:11 PM EDT (2211 GMT)

     BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) -- Reflecting growing alarm in Washington
about leftist rebels strengthened by the cocaine trade, a top U.S.
diplomat met with Colombia's president Tuesday to discuss drug
trafficking and the country's civil war.

     Undersecretary of State Thomas Pickering, who arrived late
Monday, met with President Andres Pastrana, who vowed when he took
office a year ago to battle drug trafficking and negotiate an end to
the country's 35-year civil war.

     But with peace talks faltering, desperate Colombians requesting
U.S. visas in record numbers, and illegal drug plantations expanding
in the world's No. 1 cocaine-exporting nation, Colombia's future is
far from certain.

     Clinton administration officials "sense that they're maybe losing
control of things in that region," said Michael Shifter of the
Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington think tank. Pickering's trip is
the highest-level U.S. diplomatic visit to Colombia in nearly a

     Helping to sharpen U.S. attention was the death of five American
soldiers last month when a U.S. Army spy plane crashed while on a
counter-narcotics mission over rebel-dominated territory here.

     U.S. policy in Colombia also has become a hot partisan issue on
Capitol Hill.

     The country will receive nearly dlrs 300 million in U.S. military
assistance this year -- making it the third largest foreign
recipient. But Republican lawmakers say the Clinton administration
has ignored the growing threat of rebels who finance themselves by
protecting the cocaine trade.

     Colombia is seeking dlrs 500 million in U.S. military aid _
principally for helicopters and high-tech communications gear -- to
help it regain the upper hand against the 15,000-strong Revolutionary
Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

     Critics worry that Washington will be bankrolling a military
which has tolerated -- and at times directly supported -- right-wing
paramilitary groups who've massacred thousands of civilians.

     U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, writing an op-ed
article in The New York Times on Tuesday, urged more progress in
severing those deadly ties but said the military had "dramatically
improved" its rights record.

     "President Pastrana was right to initiate talks," she wrote. "The
question is whether he can muster a combination of pressure and
incentives that will cause the guerrillas to respond."

     In a move widely criticized in Washington, Pastrana cleared all
his troops from a massive southern region in November, effectively
ceding the area to the FARC. The rebels have not reciprocated,
however. Talks are stalled and FARC attacks continue.

     U.S. officials say the group earns between dlrs 200 million and
dlrs 600 million annually by protecting and taxing drug operations in
the vast areas it controls. While not close to toppling Colombia's
democratic government, the FARC is now the only authority in about 40
percent of the countryside.

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