- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 27, 2001

Colombian President Andres Pastrana, in Washington to meet with President Bush today, said the United States should sit down to discuss peace with Colombia's Marxist, drug-trafficking guerrillas.

Mr. Pastrana, speaking to reporters on Capitol Hill, said the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, widely known by its acronym FARC, last week invited several European Union and Latin American nations to Colombia to discuss peace. On Friday, the United States and Cuba were invited to attend.

"I think it is positive if the United States is at the table," said Mr. Pastrana, just after meeting with Rep. Henry J. Hyde, Illinois Republican and chairman of the International Relations Committee.

The United States in the past has met with members of the FARC, who have been engaged in a 37-year insurgency against the government of Colombia. But Washington broke off discussions after three U.S.-Indian rights activist missionaries were kidnapped and executed by the FARC in 1999.

The United States has refused to meet with the FARC until those responsible for the murders are turned over for trial.

Earlier in the day, Mr. Pastrana said Colombia would be responsible for ensuring justice if the men were turned over to authorities. He said the March 8 meeting should be used to move the peace process forward.

Mr. Pastrana is in Washington for a four-day visit that culminates with his meeting today with Mr. Bush.

The main purpose of this visit is to lobby for trade preferences that would allow Colombian textiles into the United States duty-free. He also is pushing for more money for social programs and for more open U.S. support in the peace process.

In yesterday's meeting with Mr. Hyde, Mr. Pastrana sought to calm the growing concern on Capitol Hill that his Plan Colombia, which seeks to bring peace to Colombia and end its drug trade, is not going as planned.

During the past week, two helicopters a Huey II and a Black Hawk which were given to Colombia by the United States, came under hostile fire from FARC rebels.

The Huey II, a police helicopter that was involved in crop fumigation, was shot down in an area that according to Plan Colombia should have been cleared by the Colombian military. According to Mr. Pastrana, the Colombian military arrived after the fact.

"Mr. Hyde asked Pastrana, where was the military [in the attack], and Mr. Hyde pressed Pastrana hard on the sincerity of the guerillas, in light of their continuing attacks," said a senior Republican aide. "Mr. Pastrana promised there would be penalties" if the FARC did not stop the attacks.

Washington analysts said that Mr. Pastrana understands that he cannot bring peace to Colombia without outside international pressure on the FARC.

"He wants the United States to play a much more active role in the peace process," said Michael Shifter of the Inter-American Dialogue. Mr. Shifter said that outside pressure from the United States or even the United Nations is needed to negotiate peace in Colombia.

The United States pledged $1.3 billion to back Pastrana's Plan Colombia, a $7 billion strategy to eradicate drugs, reform the judicial system, end human rights abuses and persuade peasants to plant alternate crops. About 80 percent of the total is for military aid.

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