- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 16, 2003

BOGOTA, Colombia Hundreds of Colombian soldiers and U.S.-donated Black Hawk helicopters scoured rebel territory yesterday for three Americans believed kidnapped by a rebel group after their plane crashed in the region while on a spy mission, the army said.
Rebels shot and killed a fourth American and a Colombian army sergeant who were also on the plane, the country's top military commander, Gen. Jorge Mora, said.
The U.S. aircraft was on an intelligence mission when it went down Thursday in a drug-producing area crawling with fighters from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. The pilot of the single-engine Cessna reported engine trouble shortly before the crash.
The United States has pumped almost $2 billion in mostly military aid into Colombia in the past three years, support that FARC has called an act of war. The rebels have threatened to target American officials and interests.
The State Department said it has "reliable information" that FARC has kidnapped the three surviving Americans. The 16,000-member rebel group is waging a 38-year insurgency against the Colombian government.
Yesterday, 1,000 Colombian soldiers assisted by U.S.-made helicopter gunships, typically reserved for drug-fighting missions, searched for the Americans near the village of Doncello, in Caqueta province, 210 miles south of the capital, Bogota, army commander Gen. Carlos Alberto Ospina said.
U.S. officials were lending logistics support and intelligence information to the search effort, Gen. Ospina said.
The names of the Americans have not been released, and a U.S. Embassy official declined to comment.
Most of the U.S. military aid has been aimed at fighting the drug trade, which provides a huge source of income for both rebels and rival right-wing militias. Restrictions on that aid were recently lifted, allowing Colombia to use it to fight the rebels.
Washington stepped up its involvement in the country's civil conflict last month, sending U.S. Army Special Forces soldiers to train Colombian troops to fight insurgents in a violent eastern province.
President Bush recently asked Congress for more than $500 million in additional aid for Colombia, and recent events could strengthen Colombia's argument for more help.
"They'll make the case that this is a critical moment," said Michael Shifter of the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington.
In recent days, Colombia has been rocked by some of its worst violence in recent memory. On Feb. 7, suspected FARC fighters detonated a bomb inside a prestigious social club in Bogota, killing 35 persons and injuring more than 100.
Early Friday, 17 persons were killed when a bomb exploded inside a house located under the flight path of planes landing at the airport in Neiva, about 250 miles south of Bogota.
FARC fighters had planted the explosives in the house and were planning to blow President Alvaro Uribe's plane out of the sky when it landed at the airport for a scheduled visit, authorities said.

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide