- The Washington Times - Friday, March 26, 2004

How about a little more bang for our bucks?

While Colombian President Alvaro Uribe was in Washington this week, the Bush administration took the opportunity to tout success against drug traffickers and outlaw armed groups in that country (“Colombia gets results in drug war,” Wednesday, Nation). Left out of this picture were two in-depth reports by the State Department and the United Nations indicating a reason for continued deep concern about U.S. policy toward Colombia.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights indicated that the United Nations “continued receiving, in growing numbers, complaints of violations with direct responsibility of public servants, and in particular the Security Forces.” The State Department confirmed the continued links between the U.S.-funded Colombianmilitaryandthe U.S.-designated terrorist paramilitary groups. The report explains that some members of the public security forces “collaborated with or tolerated the activities of illegal paramilitaries.”

Minimal progress has been made in breaking Colombian military links to paramilitary terrorist organizations despite the $3 billion in U.S. aid already given. Mr. Uribe is asking the United States to continue providing similar levels of aid to Colombia through 2009. U.S. policy-makers must demand more concrete results before they commit billions more taxpayer dollars to Colombia’s military.

JESS HUNTER

Senior associate

U.S. Office on Colombia

Washington

Unity for all Georgia

The March 16 editorial “Georgia targets consolidation” contains certain factual inaccuracies and questionable analysis of policy options. The Washington Times argues for increased Russian involvement in Georgian affairs; formal independence for Adjara, an autonomous area within Georgia; and the elevation of Aslan Abashidze to a position of national leadership.

From the outset, I must clarify to the reader that the recent standoff in the Autonomous Republic of Adjara is not a reflection of the Georgian central government’s attitude toward the concept of autonomy. It is merely a consequence of unlawful deedscommittedbyMr. Abashidze’s regime.

Throughout the past 13 years, Mr. Abashidze’s regime has depended on external political, economic and military support — not to mention the “shadowy role” of one of the Russian military bases still on Georgian soil. The result has been the creation of a rogue region outside of the national government’s legal framework. During this time, Mr. Abashidze’s local Soviet-style semi-autocratic regime has perpetrated gross violations of the constitution of Georgia, including a complete disregard for basic human rights and freedoms and noncompliance with legitimate demands. Violation of basic rights to free speech and expression, kidnapping, imprisonment and assassinations of political opponents, concealment of financial resources and smuggling occurred on a regular basis.

Events came to a head recently when Georgia’s finance minister was detained in Adjara by Mr. Abashidze’s enforcers and President Mikhail Saakashvili was blocked from entering the region by armed militias.

RespondingtoMr. Abashidze’sactions,Mr. Saakashvili imposed economic sanctions on Adjara that included stopping trade through border crossings, halting sea and air traffic into the area and suspending licenses for banks to conduct financial transactions with those in Adjara. On March 18, Mr. Saakashvili entered the Adjarian region of Georgia and was greeted warmly by thousands of local people bearing roses — a symbol of November’s successful Rose Revolution. Contrary to the opinions expressed in your editorial, the Adjarians demonstrated that they are no different from other Georgians in choosing freedom and opportunity over authoritarianism and despair.

In the wake of this demonstration of popular support, Mr. Abashidze agreed to release jailed political opponents, prevent Adjarian officials from blocking democratic elections, halt the distribution of arms, collect arms that have been transferred illegally and guarantee government customs agents access to two key trade centers. In return, economic sanctions were lifted.

This sequence of events demonstrates the firm commitment of Mr. Saakashvili to solving the difficult economic, social and security issues through dialogue and nonviolence. It also demonstrates that the people of Georgia are on his side.

Here it must be mentioned that we are grateful for the constructive approach of Turkey, Russia, the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which immensely contributed to the resolution of the recent standoff.

Guaranteeing all Georgians freedom, democracy, human rights and economic opportunity — not pandering to the worst elements that seek to divide and destroy our state — is critical to building a prosperous and stable country.

LEVAN MIKELADZE

Ambassador

Embassy of Georgia

Washington, D.C.

The unsilent majority

Regarding Monday’s story on the Gaithersburg smoking ban (“Smoking ban worries workers,” Metropolitan): Smoking is not a right — not when it’s done in an indoor public place such as a restaurant, where secondhand smoke from a cigarette affects the health of workers and other patrons.

Secondhand smoke is classified by the Environmental Protection Agency as a “known human carcinogen” and is listed by the National Cancer Institute as the No. 3 cause of preventable death. The government imposes all manner of other regulations to ensure that restaurants offer a healthy and safe environment. Why should smoking be treated any differently? Government has no higher purpose than protecting the health and welfare of its citizens.

Gaithersburg’s leaders did the right thing in adopting Montgomery County’s smoking ban in restaurants and bars, protecting workers and patrons from a health hazard. We challenge the statement that the city’s residents “seem as divided on the issue as their council members.” A public-opinion survey, conducted by a Republican-affiliated polling firm in the District in December, found that two out of three Maryland voters supported a statewide law that would prohibit smoking in restaurants and bars. In the D.C. region, support rose to a state-high 75 percent.

This issue is not about protecting business. It is about protecting lives.

STEPHEN PEREGOY

President and CEO

American Lung Association of Maryland

Timonium, Md.

A raw deal from the Park Service

With the National Cherry Blossom Festival upon us and the kickoff of the tourist season in the nation’s capital, the Park Service advises that about 1 million visitors will venture through the Mall to view the sights and icons that are the attractions of Washington.

How many will know that the true leader of the U.S. Park Police, the law enforcement agency entrusted with their protection, sits at home, punished for speaking out about their safety and the security of the treasures they have come to visit?

The recent hearings regarding the Park Service raise the very issues that Chief Teresa Chambers was trying to address when she was suspended and gagged (“Park Police chief wantstoreturntowork,” Briefly, yesterday). Now more than ever, her leadership is needed as the nation enters the season when those monuments become most vulnerable and the concerns of terrorism and retaliation arise.

The Fraternal Order of Police urges the Park Service and Interior Secretary Gail A. Norton to return Chief Chambers to her rightful position as active chief of the U.S. Park Police and to demonstrate their willingness to move forward for the benefit of this nation and its citizens.

LOU CANNON

President

Fraternal Order of Police

Washington

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