- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 11, 2002

Rocha rocks Bolivia

The State Department yesterday defended the U.S. ambassador to Bolivia against accusations that he is interfering in the country's presidential election by urging Bolivians to oppose a coca-leaf-growing socialist candidate.

Ambassador Manuel Rocha had publicly criticized Evo Morales, who had denounced U.S. drug-eradication programs aimed at eliminating the coca crop, which can be processed into cocaine. Mr. Morales called Mr. Rocha's comments "terrorist and arbitrary."

"There were attacks made against U.S. policy," State Department spokesman Phil Reeker said. "We feel that our ambassador was more than warranted in delivering those remarks."

Before the June 30 election, Mr. Rocha, a career diplomat, urged voters against electing "those who want Bolivia to become a major cocaine exporter again." Bolivia was one of South America's leading cocaine producers before it began an eradication program with the United States in 1998 that has destroyed 133,000 acres of coca leaves.

Coca farmers, like Mr. Morales, continue to grow the crop, arguing that it is a traditional practice among Bolivia's Indian population.

He chews coca leaves, also a tradition in Bolivia, but says he opposes the production of cocaine.

Mr. Rocha warned Bolivians that electing Mr. Morales could "place in danger the future aid that the U.S. gives to Bolivia." The United States donates more than $100 million a year to help pay for the eradication program.

Mr. Morales, who was far behind in the polls before the ambassador's remarks, said the attacks rallied support for his campaign. He called Mr. Rocha his "best campaign chief."

Final results of the vote counting this week showed Mr. Morales, of the Movement Toward Socialism, with 20.9 percent of the vote and Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, the millionaire leader of the centrist Nationalist Revolutionary Movement, with 22.4 percent. That puts the two candidates in an Aug. 3 runoff that will be decided in the Bolivian Congress.

Mr. Morales this week said he expects the legislators to support Mr. Sanchez de Lozada "as per instructions from the U.S. Embassy."

In Washington yesterday, Mr. Reeker congratulated Bolivia on a free and fair election.

"The United States hopes that the next president of Bolivia is someone who shares the traditional joint commitment of our two countries to advancing the common goals of further developing economic relations, improving human rights conditions, eliminating the scourge of narcotics trafficking and ensuring a prosperous future for all Bolivians," he said.

Kazakh air relief

Kazakhstan yesterday agreed to allow U.S. planes to use the international airport in Almaty for emergency landings and refueling to help the anti-terrorist campaign in Afghanistan.

U.S. Ambassador Larry Napper and Kazakh Deputy Foreign Minister Kairat Abuseitov signed the agreement in the Kazakh capital, Astana.

Kazakh Foreign Minister Kasymzhomart Tokayev told reporters the document also covers planes from other nations in the anti-terrorism coalition.

"The issue is not about the creation of military bases, but that planes of the anti-terrorist coalition and above all U.S. planes will be able to land at our airport when both sides recognize it is an emergency," he said.

Congratulating Croatia

Croatia is leading the Balkans in its cooperation in the international tribunal prosecuting war crimes from the civil wars of the 1990s, a top U.S. envoy said yesterday.

"The United States is very pleased and satisfied with the level of cooperation that Croatia has shown to The Hague tribunal," said Pierre-Richard Prosper, ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues.

Mr. Prosper told reporters in the Croatian capital, Zagreb, that the United States will provide U.S. judicial assistance to help Croatia try suspects indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

"We believe that Croatia has been a leader in the region and is well on its way to putting the war crimes issue behind them," he said.

Croatia is currently trying several suspects in its own courts as part of an agreement worked out with the tribunal in May.

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