- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Colombian envoy quits

Colombia’s ambassador to the United States resigned this week to protest the appointment of a political rival once accused of ties to drug lords as ambassador to France.

Andres Pastrana, who served in Washington for eight months, announced his departure in Colombia’s capital, Bogota, after a six-hour meeting with President Alvaro Uribe on Tuesday. Mr. Uribe upset Mr. Pastrana, a former president, by naming Ernesto Samper to serve in Paris. Mr. Samper, also a former president, later turned down the appointment “in the higher interest of the country,” Mr. Uribe announced Tuesday evening.

Mr. Uribe named Foreign Minister Carolina Barco to replace Mr. Pastrana and Maria Angela Holguin, Colombia’s ambassador to the United Nations, to serve in France. She turned down the Paris post yesterday, according to reports from Bogota.

Mr. Pastrana, who presented his diplomatic credentials to President Bush on Nov. 9, flew to Colombia on Monday, after learning of Mr. Uribe’s decision on Friday to send Mr. Samper to France.

“This changes Colombia’s policy, and it changes it radically,” Mr. Pastrana said after his meeting with Mr. Uribe.

Mr. Samper, who narrowly defeated Mr. Pastrana in the 1994 presidential race, was investigated on charges of accepting more than $5 million in campaign contributions from the Cali drug cartel. The Supreme Court acquitted him, but several of his associates were jailed. Mr. Samper also narrowly survived a legislative impeachment attempt, after he said the drug money was donated without his knowledge. The U.S. government, citing suspicions of drug connections, barred him from entering the United States.

Mr. Pastrana, who won the presidency in 1998, feared Mr. Samper’s appointment would threaten U.S. aid to combat drug trafficking, which helped finance two rebel groups. The South American country has received more than $4 billion since 2000, when Mr. Pastrana negotiated the anti-narcotics Plan Colombia with Washington.

The new ambassador-designate to the United States is no stranger here. Mrs. Barco, the daughter of another former president, Virgilio Barco, was born in Boston and attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

She met with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Miss Rice’s visit to Bogota in April 2005. In Washington last July, Mrs. Barco told the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars that Mr. Uribe’s crackdown on the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the National Liberation Army and thousands of right-wing militia members has dramatically reduced violence in a country at war for more than 40 years.

“The progress we’ve achieved in the past few years in combating narco-trafficking and terrorism is a very good indicator of the direction in which we’re heading,” she said.

Advice to Sri Lanka

On his last day as ambassador to Sri Lanka, Jeffrey J. Lunstead talked of his disappointment that the South Asian nation remains trapped in a cycle of violence caused by a rebel movement widely labeled a terrorist group.

Mr. Lunstead urged the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam to “renounce terrorist violence” and return to peace talks under a widely violated 2001 cease-fire.

“If they do that, the U.S. and the rest of the international community will respond positively,” he told reporters Tuesday.

The LTTE rebellion for a separate nation for the ethnic Tamil minority has claimed more than 60,000 lives since the uprising began in 1972.

Mr. Lunstead, who served three years in Sri Lanka, also urged the government to adopt laws that will guarantee minority rights.

“It’s hard to see where things are going,” he said, adding, “I have to confess that I leave with some disappointment.”

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail [email protected]

washingtontimes.com.

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