- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 23, 2000

SAN VICENTE DEL CAGUAN, Colombia Leftist rebels who oppose growing U.S. ties to Colombia's military have promised not to stage attacks to disrupt President Clinton's upcoming visit to the South American country.

"We will not impede [the Aug. 30 visit] with guerrilla actions," Andres Paris, a commander and spokesman of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, told the Associated Press in an interview Monday in this southern ranching town.

But the insurgents known as FARC are "calling on the Colombian people the labor unions, student groups, organizations of the unemployed and others to protest Clinton's visit," Mr. Paris added.

Mr. Paris said a $1.3 billion U.S. anti-narcotics aid package for Colombia recently approved in Washington is "just a smoke screen to promote imperialist interests," and that the U.S. government aims to exert control over the Andean region's oil and mineral wealth.

Mr. Clinton's planned one-day visit is intended as a show of support for President Andres Pastrana and his "Plan Colombia" a strategy to revive Colombia's economy and stem the country's booming cocaine and heroin trade to the United States and Europe.

Security is expected to be extremely tight for Mr. Clinton's brief visit and meeting with Mr. Pastrana in Cartagena, a Caribbean port. The president is only scheduled to stay a few hours and will not spend the night in Colombia, one of the world's most violent countries.

Mr. Paris said FARC rejects Mr. Clinton's visit "because he is coming as the head of an empire to shore up Plan Colombia, which is only going to intensify the armed confrontation."

The U.S. aid package will provide battle helicopters and Green Beret training to support a military push into southern jungles where FARC rebels and the militias take payoffs to protect peasant drug plots and traffickers' airstrips and laboratories.

Increased bloodshed is widely expected in the conflict that already claims thousands of lives a year. The rebels, whom the State Department considers a terrorist organization, have claimed repeatedly that they are the real target of the U.S. aid plan.

But U.S. officials insist that Washington is not becoming involved in Colombia's 36-year civil conflict. They concede, however, that U.S.-trained troops and equipment will be used against any guerrilla units who try to block stepped up efforts to eradicate drug crops and destroy labs.

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