- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 12, 2000

Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright and Colombian President Andres Pastrana said yesterday that a proposed $1.6 billion U.S. drug package would fight paramilitary death squads as well as communist guerrillas in the Andean nation.

The U.S. aid, now pending in Congress, would include dozens of Black Hawk helicopters and other military assistance to help Colombia's government win back some of the more than 30 percent of the country held by the rebel Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia known by the Spanish acronym FARC.

The regions under FARC control, mostly in southern Colombia, supply most of the cocaine and much of the heroin flowing into the United States.

Mr. Pastrana and Mrs. Albright told reporters at the State Department the aid will also be turned against the rightist paramilitary squads, who also protect the cocaine and heroin trade.

Mr. Pastrana said the U.S. aid would be invested "in the north and the south, the east and the west."

"We don't want to fracture the country." Mrs. Albright concurred. "The paramilitaries are part of the problem, not part of the solution."

For years the Colombian military has allowed paramilitary groups to operate with impunity. So long as they fight guerrillas, authorities tend to look the other way as paramilitaries murder and terrorize suspected rebel sympathizers.

The administration's new military aid package, which the House has passed but is stalled in the Senate, will provide help to anti-drug police and army units that protect police from the heavily armed FARC, Mrs. Albright said.

Those army units must be vetted to be sure they do not include officers who commit human rights abuses a U.S. legal precondition for American aid.

Separately, the U.S. drug policy chief, Gen. Barry McCaffrey, said yesterday that the paramilitaries have decided to kill Mr. Pastrana in revenge for his efforts to rein in their operations, long believed sanctioned by the Colombian army.

"The paramilitary forces responded with an assassination plot to kill President Pastrana," Gen. McCaffrey told journalists after meeting with the Colombian president.

"There is no question that the so-called paramilitary … may be the most vicious and violent group in Colombia today," he said, adding that the rightist fighters had recently stepped up their campaign against leftist guerrillas operating in the country.

They are trying to "regain control of their illegal commerce and also terrorizing innocent civilians," Gen. McCaffrey said.

Gen. McCaffrey said he was assured by Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, of Mr. Lott's "absolute support for the [Colombia aid] bill and the purpose of the bill."

Gen. McCaffrey said the proposed $1.6 billion aid package will protect the United States, where drugs "kill 52,000 Americans a year."

"We are calling upon Congress to support this plan, which we now have in front of Congress," he said.

The aid plan will also deal with some root causes of Colombia's political and drug problems, he said.

A senior Colombian official recently told The Washington Times that no health care is provided to much of the rural population.

It is those people who have fallen under the sway of the guerrillas or the paramilitaries, often sensing they owe little allegiance to the government in Bogota, the official said.

Mr. Pastrana said the U.S. aid, along with billions more he hopes to raise in Europe and from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, would go "not just to fight drugs but for health, structural reforms, strengthening institutions, human rights" and other social purposes.

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