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Saturday, 27 October, 2001, 00:12 GMT 01:12 UK
US expands support for Colombia
A boy looks at the wreckage of a car bomb
US help will focus on armed groups as well as drugs
By Jeremy McDermott in Bogota

The United States has confirmed it is going to broaden its war on terrorism and provide Colombia with further aid to fight its three warring factions that are on the American terrorism list.

US list of terror groups
FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia): The largest and oldest group
ELN (National Liberation Army): Smaller and Cuban-inspired
AUC (United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia): Far-right paramilitary group
Up until now, aid has been wholly restricted to the war against drugs. But according to analysts, the gloves have come off.

The US ambassador to Bogota, Anne Patterson, has recently hardened her stance on Colombia's warring factions, likening them to Osama Bin Laden and stating that the US would want to extradite certain guerrilla and paramilitary leaders.

The Colombian Government's chief peace negotiator, Camilo Gomez, met Marxist FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) rebel leaders on Friday, but the guerrillas insisted they would not return to stalled peace talks.

Oil interest

Analysts speculated that the US decision was going to herald a deepening of American involvement in Colombia, up until now restricted to the war against drugs, and they were right.

Colombian soldiers with remains of burned tanker truck
The civil war in Colombia has been raging for the last 37 years

Colombia is about to become a front line in America's global war against terrorism.

Ambassador Patterson has announced that Washington will train and equip elite anti-kidnapping and bomb squads, assist civilian and military terrorism investigators and help Colombia guard its oil pipelines.

Most of the pipelines are run by US companies, which have been hard hit by repeated attacks by Marxist guerrillas.

New Vietnam?

Former US President Bill Clinton granted Colombia $1.3bn of mainly military aid, but with strict conditions that it be used only for fighting against drugs.

All of the [Colombian] outlaw groups have to understand that it's not just rhetoric that the world changed after 11 September

Colombian Foreign Minister Guillermo Fernandez de Soto

It seems those conditions will be lifted and the US will provide intelligence and resources to help the beleaguered government of President Andres Pastrana fight the 37-year civil conflict against Marxist guerrillas and right-wing paramilitaries.

Critics see the announcement as one that will lead to "mission creep", as in Vietnam, and drag the United States deeper into Colombia's bloody civil conflict.

Within Colombia, there is suspicion of US intentions, with the shadow of American involvement in Central America still fresh in people's minds.

Colombian President Andres Pastrana will meet US President George W Bush in Washington on 11 November to review the situation.

The BBC's Emil Petrie
"America has been giving Colombia money and training for a number of years"
See also:

21 Oct 01 | Americas
Fresh violence kills 30 in Colombia
11 Oct 01 | Americas
Massacres shake Colombia peace deal
06 Oct 01 | Americas
Colombia peace talks rescued
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