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Friday, 3 May, 2002, 17:36 GMT 18:36 UK
US 'heading deeper' in Colombia conflict
Black Hawk helicopters are part of anti-drugs aid
The United States is heading deeper into Colombia's civil war, according to research conducted by a US think-tank.

US aid to tackle the South American country's drugs war is also helping the government fight left-wing rebels, according to the National Security Archive.

Andres Pastrana: Appeal for help rejected
As a result, the US is on the brink of direct confrontation with the guerrillas.

The independent foreign policy research centre looked at papers relating to US anti-drugs aid to Colombia.

The Clinton administration pledged $1bn of military aid to help fund the Colombian Government's counter-drugs programme, known as Plan Colombia.

Under the rules of the plan, which the Bush administration would like to scrap, the assistance can only be used to tackle drug-trafficking.

We are providing advice to the Colombian Government as to drug eradication and we will keep it that way

President Bush, February 2002
But recently declassified documents show that the US Government knew that part of the anti-drug aid was siphoned off by Colombian military officials who maintained close ties with right-wing paramilitary groups.

The documents, including those of the Central Intelligence Agency and the Drug Enforcement Administration, appear to support fears by Congress members about suspected links between the drugs trade, right-wing paramilitaries and elements within the Colombian armed forces.

Global terrorism

They fear US military aid might end up in the wrong hands.

Colombia is playing its part in encouraging the Bush administration to lift restrictions on its anti-drugs aid.

FARC guerrillas are thought to be closely linked to the drugs trade
Colombia's President Andres Pastrana appealed this year for the United States to allow the aid to be used directly against insurgents who, he said, were committing terrorist acts.

President George W Bush rejected the appeal, pointing out the legal constraints.

"We are providing advice to the Colombian Government as to drug eradication and we will keep it that way," he said.

"The law is very clear."

But the main left-wing rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), is also said to be receiving money from drugs operations.

And US officials used the indictment earlier this month of FARC guerrillas for the murder of three US aid workers to strengthen their case to relax the rules of the anti-drugs funding.

Attorney General John Ashcroft sees a crackdown on leftist guerrillas in Colombia as part of America's wider war on global terrorism.

Coca crop grows

"Today the United States strikes back at the FARC reign of terror against the United States and its citizens," said Mr Ashcroft after the indictment by a Federal grand jury.

"Just as we fight terrorism in the mountains of south Asia, we will fight terrorism in our own hemisphere."

Clashes between the army and the rebels have increased since the collapse of peace talks with the FARC in February.

And US figures released earlier this year showed that the area in Colombia used for coca crops grew by almost 25% last year despite the anti-drugs programme.

Coca crops in Colombia, the world's largest producer of cocaine and the main supplier of the drug in the US, grew to almost 170,000 hectares last year, according to the US estimates.

The Colombian authorities disputed the figures, saying they managed to reduce the area cultivated with coca to just under 145,000 hectares in 2001, an 11% drop compared with the previous year.

See also:

27 Feb 02 | Americas
Bush denies Colombia military aid
08 Mar 02 | Americas
Colombia seeks to widen drugs war
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