- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 3, 2002


BOGOTA, Colombia U.S. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell is due in Colombia today to meet with President Alvaro Uribe, who took office Aug. 7.

Mr. Powell was en route here September 11 last year but turned back because of the terrorist attacks. His visit today and tomorrow will be his first since taking office in January 2001.

State Department spokesman Philip Reeker told reporters Mr. Powell will reaffirm the Bush administration's commitment to help Colombia fight "narco-terrorism and address humanitarian challenges," and also offer U.S. help to strengthen Colombia's "democratic institutions and foster economic development."

The secretary is to meet Mr. Uribe and Foreign Minister Carolina Barco during his visit.

Among the issues expected to be reviewed is the anti-narcotics Plan Colombia, which has received more than $1.5 billion in U.S. aid mostly military during the past three years. Mr. Uribe's efforts to improve the armed forces and create a network of citizen informers against Marxist guerrillas and the rightist paramilitary United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) are also likely to be reviewed, along with Mr. Uribe's exploratory peace contacts with both sides. Both groups are financed largely by the illegal drug trade.

Also likely to be discussed are Colombia's upcoming two-year stint on the U.N. Security Council, U.S. extradition orders against guerrilla and paramilitary leaders and drug kingpins, and how to protect U.S. citizens and American interests in Colombia.

Known as the kidnapping and murder capital of the world, Colombia has 2,000 to 3,000 abductions each year and 23,000 to 26,000 murders, according to government figures.

During the past seven years, 51 U.S. citizens were murdered in Colombia, said a U.S. Embassy official in Bogota. Three of them were kidnapped and slain in 1999 by members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), largest of the Marxist guerrilla groups with 14,000 to 17,000 combatants.

In addition, from 1998 to 2002, 41 Americans were kidnapped in Colombia, the same source said. Seventeen were abducted by the National Liberation Army (ELN), the smaller of the Marxist groups, and 16 by FARC. Since 1980, according to the U.S Justice Department, nearly 120 Americans have been kidnapped in Colombia, mostly by guerrillas.

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