- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 27, 2000

Colombian President Andres Pastrana said yesterday a $1 billion U.S. program to combat drug trafficking could be used to fight leftist rebels if they are involved in that illegal activity.
"If [the rebels] are in the business, logically, it is going to be used against them," Mr. Pastrana told reporters.
Colombia's president is in Washington this week to garner support for the Clinton administration's $1.6 billion aid package money he hopes will be added to his Plan Colombia, a peace and economic-stability plan designed to rescue his beleaguered nation.
Under the plan, his government intends to commit $4 billion over the next three years and is seeking $3.5 billion from the United States and the international community.
Colombia is the world's largest exporter of cocaine, and it is estimated that more than 60 percent of Colombia's narcotics come to the United States.
Rebel insurgent groups in the country protect much of the drug trade there.
Most of the aid about 80 percent will go to the Colombian military and security forces to fight drug traffickers and the leftist rebels.
Drug money plays a central role in financing the rebel insurgency.
Mr. Pastrana said the Colombian government would use equipment and U.S.-trained units against the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) if the group's activity was associated with drug cultivation or centers of drug-related operations.
However, critics are concerned that U.S. aid dollars will be supporting a Colombian military often accused of human rights abuses.
"The American aid is going to be used in the counternarcotics fight," Mr. Pastrana told reporters.
Despite Mr. Pastrana's words about FARC and leftist rebels, Colombia's president sounded optimistic about a peace deal with the rebels.
He noted the group's leader, Manuel Marulanda, said for the first time that the peace process could go forward.
Mr. Pastrana met with President Clinton on Tuesday and stressed in an interview that his government was committed to bettering its human rights record, but said it would not help matters if Washington applied more pressure.
He reiterated his claim yesterday during a conference of U.S. mayors in Washington, saying there should be no conditions placed on the aid package, and that his vice president is in charge of the human rights policy in the country.
At the mayors' conference, he shared the podium with retired Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey, head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, who said he felt there was bipartisan support for the package.
"It will be important for Congress to hear from America's mayors in the days and weeks ahead that this initiative is not just in Colombia's interest, but also America's," Mr. Pastrana said during the conference.
Before speaking at the mayors' conference yesterday, Mr. Pastrana met with Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican; Sen. Paul Coverdell, Georgia Republican; and Sen. Mike DeWine, Ohio Republican.
Mr. Pastrana said he was optimistic about the bill after his meetings on Capitol Hill.
Mr. Lott said he is generally supportive of Mr. Pastrana's approach, but told the Colombian leader that it was important that he show progress.
"I don't think the American people are going to want to just keep pouring money into that situation if they don't make progress in terms of stopping the growing of coca and stopping the drug running in the air and on the water," Mr. Lott said.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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