- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 16, 2003

Colombia’s ambassador to the United States yesterday warned that Washington’s threat to cut military aid to countries refusing to exempt U.S. citizens from the International Criminal Court would compromise his country’s battle against narco-terrorists.

Ambassador Luis Alberto Moreno said Colombia’s recent successes in cutting back coca production, opening talks with deadly paramilitary fighters, quashing the rebels’ violent attacks and revitalizing the economy would all be affected by any cut in U.S. aid.

“It’s an important impact, because as you can see from the results today, it is critical to maintain this level of support,” Mr. Moreno told reporters.

His comments came as the right-wing United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia agreed to peace talks with the government of President Alvaro Uribe and pledged to lay down its guns by the end of 2005.

“I believe that this can contribute to the country laying down the foundation for peace,” Mr. Uribe said, as he symbolically moved the capital to the war-zone town of Arauca for three days.

Mr. Moreno said it was unlikely U.S. extradition requests for paramilitary leaders Carlos Castano and Salvatore Mancuso on drug-trafficking charges would proceed if the two men were to lead the negotiation efforts.

On-again off-again talks with the larger leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia have failed to produce a peace deal.

“The U.S. provides vital financial, military and humanitarian support, which sends an important signal to the Colombian people that we are not alone in this fight,” Mr. Moreno said.

On July 1, Washington suspended military aid to 35 countries, including Colombia, for refusing to sign a deal granting Americans immunity from the ICC.

At risk for Colombia is roughly $110 million out of a total of $574.6 million the administration has requested Congress for Colombia for fiscal year 2004, which begins Oct. 5.

Of the total amount, about $150 million is targeted to social and economic programs, while roughly $313 million goes to illegal drug interdiction and eradication, including training of Colombian military and the sharing of intelligence resources.

The potential cut in military aid would force a slash in military assets, transportation capabilities and cutbacks in a lot of equipment needed to maintain Bogota’s decades-long war against the narco-funded Marxist rebels and paramilitary groups, Mr. Moreno said.

“I hope we can come to an agreement with the United States vis-a-vis the ICC issue,” he said.

The Bush administration is vehemently against the ICC — set up to try war crimes and crimes against humanity — and has entered into bilateral immunity deal with about 50 countries.

Mr. Moreno said that to date, the three-year, $2.5 billion U.S. funding for Plan Colombia had brought about a 38 percent reduction of the areas of coca cultivation and reduced the production of illegal drugs.

Kidnappings and massacres were down 34 and 45 percent respectively in the first half of 2003 compared with the like period last year, he said, and human rights had improved.

A report issued recently by the congressional General Accounting Office found that despite the multibillion-dollar U.S. aid program, Colombia remained the world’s largest producer of coca and had expanded its opium poppy production, becoming a significant source of heroin on American streets.

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