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Wednesday, 25 July, 2001, 00:55 GMT 01:55 UK
US backs Colombia drugs fight
Special Colombian anti-narcotics unit
US focus on destroying drug crops is criticised
The United States House of Representatives has voted against cuts to a controversial aid package to help fight the illegal drugs trade in Colombia and other South American countries.

The aid of more than $670m is to be used to eradicate drug plantations, encourage the production of alternative crops, and help promote peace and stability in the region.

Fumigation of poppy fields
The UN wants an audit of anti-drug crop spraying

The decision is seen as a victory for the Bush administration, which said any reductions in the programme would undermine efforts to develop strong economies and democratic governments in the Andes.

Democrats had criticised the package, saying it represented a further step towards US military intervention in the region.

They had wanted to divert some of the money to other projects, such as children's health programmes and the fight against Aids.

Audit

The decision came as the United Nations asked Colombia to accept an international audit of its anti-cocaine crop-spraying programme.


We believe that an international and neutral verification is needed

Klauss Nyholm

The representative of the UN Drug Control Programme in Colombia, Klauss Nyholm, said it was inhuman and ineffective to spray smallholdings where only tiny amounts of illegal crops were being grown.

"We believe that an international and neutral verification is needed," he said.

Local farmers have complained that the herbicide damages the environment and poses a risk to human health.

The UN accepts the fumigation of larger plantations, which the government says are grown by drug traffickers, but believes the spraying should be monitored for its environmental effects.

Expanded aid

The spraying initiative is backed by the $1.3bn in aid approved last year for Plan Colombia under the Clinton administration, to tackle illegal drug-trafficking and production.

The funds approved in the House of Representatives on Tuesday are designed to build on the plan.

But they are also destined to pay for expanded counter-narcotics aid to Colombia's neighbours in the Andean region, which have suffered spillover effects from trafficking by Colombian drugs gangs.

BBC Bogota correspondent Jeremy McDermott says that squeezing drug production in Colombia means that it simply pops up again elsewhere.

Production in neighbouring Peru, which had been falling significantly, was now increasing again

See also:

23 Apr 01 | Americas
Colombia probes rebel 'drugs links'
29 Mar 01 | Americas
Hidden costs of Plan Colombia
14 Jan 01 | Americas
Eyewitness: Inside a cocaine factory
27 Jun 01 | Media reports
Andean summit backs anti-drugs plan
22 Apr 01 | Americas
US drug spies in the sky
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