- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 6, 2003

BOGOTA, Colombia — Violent crime in Colombia has dropped significantly, said Maj. Gen. Teodoro Campo Gomez, the National Police director.According to a police statement, there were 1,964 fewer violent deaths in the first four months of 2003 than in the same period last year, a 20 percent decline. Comparing the same periods, kidnappings also declined by 293, a decrease of 32 percent.The announcement comes in the 39th year of Colombia’s guerrilla war, where as many as 23,000 Marxist guerrillas and 13,000 rightist “self-defense” vigilantes are financed to varying degrees by the illegal drug trade.Colombia still leads the world in kidnappings, with a reported peak of 3,706 cases in 2000, and in cocaine production, estimated to be 80 percent to 90 percent of global supply. And Colombia’s annual number of homicides ranges from 25,000 to 35,000, depending on whose statistics are cited.Despite the police figures, some human rights reports suggest that the violence is worsening. There have been a number of high-profile terrorist acts in Colombia’s major cities in recent months, including the car-bombing of the Nogal social club in Bogota on Feb. 7 that killed 35 persons and injured about 160.Gen. Campo maintains that police and military operations have foiled many terrorist attempts and says the police statistics show that President Alvaro Uribe’s “plan of democratic security” is working.The security plan was reported to be on the agenda for Mr. Uribe’s visit to Washington last week. Mr. Uribe met with President Bush and U.S. lawmakers, and reached agreement on the resuming of U.S. drug-interdiction flights in Colombia, suspended in April 2001 after an American missionary and her baby were killed when their plane was shot down in neighboring Peru.The United States has given Colombia about $2 billion in security and antinarcotics assistance during the past few years, American officials said, and $25 million was allocated for a two-year antikidnapping training program.Mr. Uribe’s “democratic security” plan involves expanding the deployment of police and military forces, and using emergency powers in specified areas of unrest called “rehabilitation zones.”Human Rights Watch says these emergency powers affect civil liberties and can lead to abuses. But Andy Messing Jr., executive director of the Alexandria-based National Defense Council Foundation, said, “You have to have a balance between guarding civil liberties and security to get traction in this kind of conflict.”Shortly after taking office Aug. 7, Mr. Uribe, citing Gen. Campo’s reputation of success and professionalism, took the unprecedented step of reactivating him from retirement and appointing him as the first former police officer to be made police director.Seen by some as a move to clean house, Gen. Campo’s appointment followed a string of high-level police scandals that included the reports of the disappearance of as much as $2 million of U.S. antinarcotics aid.

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