- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 11, 2001

The State Department has ruled that the anti-communist paramilitary group United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia is a terrorist organization, just one day before Secretary of State Colin L. Powell is to visit that country.
The group, known by the Spanish acronym AUC, has long been affiliated with the military and blamed for thousands of killings and other human rights abuses during a 20-year rivalry with narcotics traffickers and leftist guerrillas.
"They claim to stand against kidnapping and extortion, and then engage in those very practices," State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said yesterday.
Adding the AUC to the department's list of foreign terrorist organizations will cut the group off from its assets in the United States and block access to purchasing weapons here.
It may also jeopardize the more than $1 billion in U.S. military backing for Colombian President Andres Pastrana's Plan Colombia, aimed at defeating the guerrilla insurgencies, restoring peace and fighting drug production.
Mr. Powell arrives today in Colombia from Lima, Peru, where he met with hemisphere foreign ministers to adopt an agreement to strengthen regional democracies.
The special session of the Organization of American States, which Mr. Powell is attending on his first South American trip, is due today to approve the Inter-American Democratic Charter giving the OAS the power to suspend member states deemed undemocratic.
In Bogota, Mr. Powell will focus on Colombia's struggle against drugs and against leftist guerrillas, with the new listing of the AUC introducing a wild card into the talks.
"The AUC has carried out numerous acts of terrorism, including the massacre of hundreds of civilians, the forced displacement of entire villages, and the kidnapping of political figures to force recognition of AUC demands," Mr. Powell said in a statement released yesterday.
"Last year, AUC members reportedly committed at least 75 massacres designed to terrorize and intimidate local populations" and kidnapped hundreds of civilians including seven Colombian congressional representatives, the U.S. statement said.
U.S. Ambassador to Colombia Anne Patterson warned last month in the Colombian news magazine Semana that the AUC might be designated a terrorist group.
The AUC joined 30 other designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations on the State Department's list because it had become part of the drug-producing and smuggling chain supplying cocaine, heroin and marijuana to U.S. dealers and addicts, Mr. Reeker said.
The AUC's attacks on Colombian officials also threaten that South American nation's democracy and therefore threaten U.S. interests, Mr. Reeker said.
AUC leader Carlos Castano rejected that charge in an interview with The Washington Times.
"We have never harmed private or state interests of the international community in Colombia," he said.
The AUC has collaborated with the Colombian military in fighting guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as FARC, and the National Liberation Army, known as ELN — both already designated as terrorist groups by the State Department.
But the AUC went far beyond the army in killing suspected guerrilla sympathizers.
U.S. Congress members critical of U.S. military aid to Colombia have said army units that collaborated with the AUC share some responsibility for its human rights abuses.


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