Monday, April 26, 2004

COLOMBIA

Drug traffickers take over paramilitaries

BOGOTA — The disappearance of Colombia’s most influential paramilitary leader has left the outlawed militias even more in the hands of drug traffickers, who don’t hesitate to kill to protect their lucrative business.

Former paramilitary leader Rodrigo Franco told the Associated Press by e-mail on Sunday that he thinks Carlos Castano is dead. More than a year ago, Mr. Castano initiated peace talks with the government and publicly condemned militia members who continued to traffic in drugs.

He disappeared in an April 16 gunbattle. Mr. Castano also is wanted by the United States on charges that he and Salvatore Mancuso, head of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, trafficked tons of cocaine to U.S. shores.



CHILE

Rival Bolivia blocks gas sales

SANTIAGO — Chile and Bolivia, unable to put a century-old war behind them, are on no better terms than when President Ricardo Lagos took office, he said Saturday after Bolivia went to great lengths to deny Chile its natural gas.

“We had advanced greatly with previous governments, but the situation is now more complicated, more difficult,” Mr. Lagos told Radio W in Santiago. “Things have gone backwards, which I regret and I consider a great failure of my administration.”

Vestiges of Chile’s 1879-83 war with Bolivia resurfaced when Bolivia sold Argentina natural gas on condition that Argentina not resell it to a third party, meaning Chile. Bolivia lost its access to the Pacific in the 19th-century war, and the two neighbors have not had diplomatic relations for 26 years.

In October, Bolivians rioted and toppled their president, in part for planning to route a natural-gas pipeline to a Chilean seaport.

Weekly notes …

Despite killing 19 million farm fowl and imposing strict quarantine measures, western Canada still is dealing with avian flu, which has infected nearly 50 farms. Scientists said recently they had bird flu under control, but six new flocks since have tested positive for the H7N3 virus. … Colombia has announced a debt swap with the United States that will allow it to invest at least $10 million in the next 12 years to protect nearly 11 million acres of its tropical forests. Under the agreement, the U.S. Treasury will contribute $7 million to the deal, while Conservation International’s Global Conservation Fund, the Nature Conservancy and World Wildlife Fund will contribute the balance. The funds will go toward canceling part of Colombia’s debt to the United States. In exchange, Colombia will invest at least $10 million to protect tropical forests.

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