- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 9, 2001

Earlier this month, Colombian police scored a small victory against terrorism that may reach far beyond that nation's own struggles. On Aug. 11, Colombian police arrested three Irish Republican Army (IRA) members who had been visiting FARC the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia the narco-terrorist "army" that has turned the Colombian countryside into a mountainous charnel house. The three were arrested on leaving the Switzerland-sized piece of territory Colombian President Andres Pastrana ceded to FARC in 1998 in the hope it would buy peace. Since 1998, FARC has not only continued its campaign of terrorism, but has also managed to make its mini-nation one of the world's leading exporters of cocaine.
Encouraged by success, FARC apparently has greater ambitions in Colombia. To strengthen its position, FARC needs to extend its influence from its southern stronghold into Colombia's major cities, and that's why the IRA was there. The IRA visiting firemen were there to train FARC troops in urban warfare and teach them how to make mortars and bombs. One report said that the IRA members were showing FARC how to make fuel-air bombs that use vaporized gasoline a poor man's nuke. Last Saturday, a fourth IRA member, Kevin Noel Crena, was arrested leaving the FARC-controlled area. He claimed to have been teaching English in a FARC school.
The IRA's involvement in Colombia apparently comes courtesy of Cuba. One of the first three arrested is one Niall Connally. Mr. Connally, it turns out, has been the IRA's Latin American "ambassador" and has operated out of Cuba for about five years. The three entered Colombia and reportedly contacted FARC with the assistance of Cuban intelligence.
America's interests are very much at stake in Colombia. Beyond controlling the drug exports, we want friendly nations around the Panama Canal to ensure it stays open to American naval and commercial ships. That's why we have about 900 non-military advisers there right now. Only a few months ago, some of our advisers a helicopter pilot and his crew had to land under fire to pick up a downed Colombian pilot. It all sounds terribly familiar, but Colombia is important enough to spend blood and treasure to defend.
Mr. Pastrana has less than two more years in office, and when he leaves, it is entirely unclear what will follow other than more FARC violence. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell is scheduled to visit Mr. Pastrana next month to talk about how Colombia will face these challenges. Mr. Powell should offer Mr. Pastrana more help in dealing with the terrorist threat in Colombia, and what is coming out of Cuba and Ireland. He should do it in terms that will help Colombia remain free even after Mr. Pastrana leaves office.


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