- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 5, 2002

BOGOTA, Colombia Secretary of State Colin L. Powell yesterday pledged additional resources for the Colombian government in its fight against "narco-terrorists," while standing firm on U.S. extradition requests for top rebel leaders.
"I intend to make the case before Congress for full funding of Colombia programs," Mr. Powell said at a press conference at the heavily guarded Hotel Radisson in northern Bogota.
"This is a partnership that works," he said.
Colombia is the third-largest recipient of U.S. aid, and Washington has already spent nearly $2 billion in mostly military assets to support "Plan Colombia," a comprehensive anti-narcotics strategy.
The Bush administration is expected to ask Congress for $573 million in additional money for fiscal 2003. "I would like to be able to get a lot more funding for Plan Colombia," Mr. Powell said. "But there are practical limitations."
After meetings with President Alvaro Uribe, Defense Minister Martha Lucia Ramirez and other top Colombian officials, Mr. Powell placed his stamp of approval on Mr. Uribe's national security strategy to combat three main rebel groups, including the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and right-wing paramilitaries.
Mr. Uribe invoked a semipermanent state of emergency upon taking office in August and has created security zones where military commanders rule.
"Today, Colombia is engaged in its own war against terrorism and the narco-trafficking that funds it," Mr. Powell said.
"The U.S. stands with the people of Colombia in this struggle."
He praised Uribe for "taking the difficult steps needed to provide security throughout Colombia."
But Mr. Powell's first visit to the country may have as much to do with events in the Middle East as with Colombia's internal conflict. Colombia assumed the role of head of the U.N. Security Council for December, a crucial time in the Bush administration's drive against Iraq.
Mr. Powell pointedly praised Colombia for playing a "responsible" role as a non-permanent member of the council and said he hoped that it would allow an "open, full and comprehensive" debate on the Iraqi issue.
He also addressed the recent peace overtures made by a paramilitary group to the Colombian government. Known by the Spanish initials AUC, the group declared a cease-fire beginning last Sunday in what it hopes will be the start of peace talks with the Uribe administration. But in September, Washington indicted AUC head Carlos Castano on charges of exporting 17 tons of cocaine to the U.S. and Europe.
Mr. Powell said the indictments and extradition requests for Mr. Castano, Salvatore Mancuso, another AUC leader, and Jorge Briceno, a top FARC commander known as "Mono Jojoy," remain in place.
"There was no discussion today of removing such requirements," Mr. Powell said. "These gentlemen have much to answer for, not only under U.S. law but Colombian law."
Mr. Powell said he had "very useful" discussions with Mr. Uribe about how the United States could share more intelligence with the Colombian police and army, and added that drug-interdiction efforts, stopped after a Peruvian missionary plane was mistakenly shot down last year, would begin again early next year.
On Tuesday, Mr. Powell met with nongovernmental organizations concerned about human rights in Colombia.

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