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Wednesday, 24 April, 2002, 16:43 GMT 17:43 UK
Q&A: US involvement in Colombia

According to a US Congressional report, the Irish Republican Army (IRA) as well as militant groups from Iran, Cuba and possibly Spain have been operating in rebel-controlled areas of Colombia. BBC News Online answers key questions about Washington's relations with Colombia.

Why is Washington involved in Colombia?

The US has been a sponsor of the Colombian Government's massive counter-drugs programme - Plan Colombia - for almost two years.

It is part of Colombian President Andres Pastrana's struggle to get his beleaguered country back on its feet by tackling what he sees as the root of the problem - drugs and the money from them that is fuelling the country's civil conflict.

The US wants to help get rid of the primary source of cocaine on America's streets. It initially pledged $1.3bn of mainly military aid to train police and troops to eradicate plantations of coca, - the raw material for cocaine - by aerial spraying.

US legislation allows the aid to be used against drug lords but not for any other campaigns - such as the government's fight with left-wing rebels.

What more does President Bush want to do?

The Bush administration now wants new legislation to allow the US to extend its financial support to Colombia from fighting the war against drugs to fighting its war on terror.

The proposal has been endorsed by Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress.

After a recent meeting with President Pastrana, Mr Bush said the two presidents concentrated on "how to change the focus of our strategy from counter-narcotics to include counter-terrorism".

Some analysts argued that the end of the peace process between the Colombian Government and the largest left-wing rebel group, FARC, would allow the Bush administration and Congress to give military backing for the government's anti-FARC campaign.

Why would this be a problem?

Some commentators say there is a danger that US military support for Plan Colombia would turn into a fully fledged programme of counter-insurgency aid to the Colombian armed forces. They say this could put at risk US military personnel and equipment.

Opponents also say there is worry that military aid would find its way to right-wing paramilitary forces, which human rights groups have long argued collaborate with the country's armed forces.

What has Plan Colombia achieved so far?

It is widely believed that few inroads have been made into the coca production so far.

Recently, US senators expressed doubts about the plan, arguing that the results so far had been insignificant as larger amounts of cocaine were being smuggled into the US.

US officials have admitted that while tens of thousands of hectares of coca has been sprayed, the crop has been replanted.

See also:

22 Dec 01 | Americas
Colombia resumes rebel dialogue
17 Dec 01 | Americas
Colombia rebels in Christmas truce
06 Dec 01 | Americas
Violent clashes in northern Colombia
11 Nov 01 | Americas
Colombian rebels make peace move
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