- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 13, 2002

BOGOTA, Colombia Rapidly cracking down on the rebel militias that threaten to destroy his country, President Alvaro Uribe Velez declared a state of emergency yesterday in the war-torn Andean nation after less than one week in office.

The decree, after a wave of violence that has killed 100 people since Mr. Uribe's inauguration Wednesday, allows the government to impose a special tax on rich Colombian companies and individuals, amounting to $778.5 million that will be used to increase the size of the police and the army.

According to Defense Minister Marta Lucia Ramirez, the order will allow the government to recruit 100,000 police and two army brigades totaling 6,000 men to combat Colombia's insurgent groups.

The largest of these militias, at 18,000 members, is the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which authorities say was responsible for attacks on the presidential palace during the Aug. 7 inauguration that killed 21 persons, mostly in Bogota's poorest neighborhood.

"We will guarantee that each peso given to increase and better the public forces will be a peso that will lead to a clear and forceful result," said Mrs. Ramirez, the first woman to be defense secretary.

Monica Robles, a spokeswoman for Mr. Uribe's government, said the primary motivation for invoking the state of emergency, which will last initially for 90 days, was to raise the necessary funds to fight FARC, the right-wing paramilitary groups and a smaller militia known as the ELN.

But the move could be used to limit press freedom, detain suspects without a warrant and replace mayors and other government officials.

Mrs. Robles said the measure was not intended for those purposes but "has to do with economics."

In a list of justifications for invoking the "internal commotion," as it is called here, the government said there were "insufficient funds" to strengthen and modernize the armed forces.

Finance Minister Robert Junguito Bonnet said the new tax, which will affect about 400,000 Colombian companies and people with liquid assets of about $58,000, was "indispensable to return to a climate of trust required for new investments, better job creation, and growth and well-being for all Colombians."

In a statement signed by his 14 Cabinet ministers, Mr. Uribe also pointed to the nexus between the guerrillas and narcotics traffickers as a reason for the extraordinary measure.

He also snoted recent death threats by the FARC against all of the country's municipal authorities, from governors down to mayors. So far, more than 200 mayors have resigned out of fear for their lives.

Eduardo Cifuentes, the country's human rights ombudsman independent of Mr. Uribe's government, said the state of emergency was needed to protect the civilian population in both urban and rural areas.

He added, "The threats of the FARC against the mayors, against the municipalities of Colombia have profoundly perverted local democracy in Colombia. Many municipalities in Colombia today are administered by remote control."

The state of emergency will automatically go into effect without the approval of the Colombian Congress, although Mr. Uribe must submit to it his reasons for the move within three days. Mr. Uribe must also convince the Constitutional Court that ordinary measures are not sufficient to deal with the problem.

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