- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 8, 2000

Helping Colombia stem its escalating, narco-financed civil war apparently isn't an overriding priority for Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican.

Earlier this week, Mr. Lott said the Senate won't consider an emergency spending package, approved by the House last week, that includes a $1.7 billion aid package for Colombia, Reuters reported. The $13 billion package also appropriates $2 billion for Kosovo operations and funding for several other initiatives, including assistance for families hit by higher fuel prices and U.S. participation in a foreign debt relief plan for poor nations. Although Mr. Lott has criticized the package for being "bloated," he has failed to propose a leaner version of the legislation himself. Mr. Lott instead proposed to deal with funding for these operations as part of the annual spending bills, which would likely delay emergency aid to Colombia for at least another six months.

This is unfortunate for U.S. law-enforcement officials who battle deadly, drug-related crime. Eighty percent of the cocaine entering the United States comes from Colombia. Mr. Lott's decision will also disappoint the Colombian people, who are routinely made the victims of terror campaigns, massacres and kidnappings.

Earlier this week, guerillas in Colombia kidnapped 23 motorists. The week before, guerillas brutally attacked a northern fishing town, beheading the mayor and a police commander. The terrorists also castrated some of the police officers who defended the town, then killed them. In addition, they forced a police officer to watch the execution of his wife and child before killing him.

The incident demonstrates the urgent need Colombian authorities have for defense equipment. The Colombian police in the town were unable to continue repelling the attack, which started March 25 and lasted until March 26, after running out of ammunition. Police troops in the Bogota headquarters were unable to help the officers in the town because their two remaining transport planes were being used in eradication operations in another part of the country. The Colombian military and police are woefully outgunned by narco-financed terrorists.

The Colombian state needs U.S. help. Some lawmakers are concerned about the violence that a better-financed Colombian military could precipitate. Unfortunately, the country's guerilla factions won't stop terrorizing the Colombian people until they are stopped militarily. They have responded to Colombian President Pastrana's numerous concessions and peace overtures by butchering civilians and their defenders.

Some would argue that Colombia's solution isn't exclusively a military one. Critics say Mr. Pastrana must work concertedly to fortify the country's democratic institutions and improve basic services for its citizens. Ideally, he would. But, insofar as they are lacking, one could hardly use it as an excuse to butcher civilians and law-enforcement officers and otherwise terrorize the country.

Mr. Pastrana has quite a task ahead of him, and the United States must do what it can to help. If Mr. Lott doesn't want to approve the whole $13 billion emergency package, he should at least present legislation to aid Colombia and the peacekeeping operation in Kosovo.

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