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Sunday, 22 September, 2002, 02:20 GMT 03:20 UK
Colombia creates security zones
Colombian soldiers stand guard near to bodies of FARC rebels after an operation to free civilians  kidnapped by the insurgents
The army launched major offensives in August
The Colombian Government has given the military sweeping powers to fight armed groups by establishing two security zones.


The goal is to avoid infiltration by armed groups... [which] have been staging tremendous acts of terror

Colombian Defence Minister
The creation of the Rehabilitation and Consolidation Zones is part of the ongoing state of emergency declared last month by hardline President Alvaro Uribe.

It will allow the armed forces to impose curfews, restrict civilian movement, arrest suspects without a warrant and search vehicles and houses without any kind of legal limitation.

All foreigners wanting to travel to the zones in the north-east and north-west of the country will have to seek permission from the Interior Ministry.

President Uribe came to power in August, pledging to fight both left-wing rebels and right-wing paramilitaries and end the violence that has claimed about 200,000 lives since 1964.

The BBC's Jeremy McDermott in Colombia says the move comes as Mr Uribe heads to Washington on Monday to meet President George W Bush and to secure more US aid in Colombia's war on terror.

Massive offensives

The two zones cover areas in three north-eastern provinces of Arauca, Sucre and Bolivar.

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe
Uribe will be pressing for more US military aid

The government has argued that civil rights must be restricted in order to restore order and put an end to almost daily killings and kidnappings by the rebels and paramilitaries.

"The goal is to achieve greater control over citizens and, consequently, avoid infiltration by armed groups... [which] have been staging tremendous acts of terror," Colombian Defence Minister Marta Lucia Ramirez said.

The creation of the zones comes as the Colombian army has launched massive offensives against the armed groups and is seeking additional military aid from the US.

US support

The US has said it will further help Colombia, which - having already received more than $1 billion - is the third-largest recipient of American military aid in the world after Israel and Egypt.

A rebel from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC)
FARC rebels control about 40% of Colombia
But the US says Colombia first had to show the will to help itself, with more defence spending and security measures.

Our correspondent says that Mr Uribe has certainly done that, raising taxes, instituting a civilian spy network and arming peasants.

He says that now - with three of Colombia's warring factions on the US terrorism list - President Uribe wants Mr Bush to include his country in the crusade on terrorism.

Mr Uribe wants more military help in the form of training, hardware and intelligence.

Our correspondent says that Colombia is moving onto a war footing, and with increasingly tough talk coming from Washington, it seems certain that the US will increase its military aid.


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