- The Washington Times - Monday, November 29, 2004

BOGOTA, Colombia — The government yesterday backpedaled on a sensational claim by the defense minister that Marxist rebels wanted to assassinate President Bush during a recent state visit.

Defense Minister Jorge Uribe told reporters Friday that informants had said the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as FARC, had instructed followers to “assassinate President Bush” during his visit to the seaside city of Cartagena on Nov. 22, where he met with President Alvaro Uribe.

The defense minister, who is no relation to the president, did not say from where the information came, and there was no indication Mr. Bush’s life was ever in danger. He was protected by 15,000 Colombian troops and police, U.S. troops and Secret Service agents during his 3-hour visit to Colombia.

Interior and Justice Minister Sabas Pretelt played down the comments yesterday, saying he had no information about any assassination plot against Mr. Bush.

“There is nothing specific,” Mr. Pretelt said. “What these terrorist organizations normally try to do is disturb the visits of any head of state … like President Bush. But we took all [security] measures, and there was no disturbance.”

The defense minister told reporters yesterday that he did not want to elaborate on his earlier comments, but his spokeswoman indicated he had either misspoken or been misunderstood.

“The FARC wanted to make a noise because of Bush’s visit, that’s to say to place a bomb in Cartagena or something like that,” spokeswoman Daisy Canon said. “But a structured plan, with details to attack Bush — that we don’t know about.”

The FARC has not commented on Mr. Uribe’s statement.

Carlos Lozano, managing editor of Colombia’s Communist Party newspaper, who has had contact with rebel leaders in the past, dismissed the assertion as outlandish.

“This is just another clownish statement from the minister,” Mr. Lozano said. “He launches these rumors which lack seriousness. I think it is his way of trying to get the United States more involved in the war here.”

Washington has provided $3 billion in mostly military aid to help Colombia battle the rebels, who have waged war for 40 years and who finance themselves through drug trafficking, kidnapping and extortion.

Up to 800 U.S. troops and 600 U.S. contractors provide training, planning and logistical support to Colombia’s armed forces.

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