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Monday, 23 September, 2002, 23:11 GMT 00:11 UK
Colombia seeks new US aid
A soldier hands out leaflets on security
President Uribe has put Colombia on a war footing

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe is in Washington to meet US President George W Bush and is hoping for an extension of US assistance under the anti-drugs "Plan Colombia".


The US is a crucial ally in the war on drugs trafficking and terror, and in Colombia they are totally linked

Vice-President Francisco Santos

Colombia believes it is entitled to US aid as America is the largest market in the world for the illegal drugs that Colombia grows in such abundance.

Plan Colombia was used by former US President Clinton to give the battered Andean nation $1.3 billion of aid, mostly military.

Now, hard-line President Uribe - who is moving Colombia onto a war footing for the first time in 38 years of fighting - wants to evolve Plan Colombia from an counter-drug package to a counter-terrorism crusade.

Drugs are still the ultimate aim, but the warring factions - Marxist guerrillas and right wing paramilitaries who all on the US terrorism list - must be dealt with first.

Responsibilities

For Francisco Santos, the Colombian Vice-President, the US is the only country in the world facing up to its responsibilities as a drugs-consuming nation, and helping Colombia fight its long-running civil conflict and the warring factions that profit from the drugs trade.

A woman cuts down heroin poppies
Some crops have been destroyed, but Mr Uribe wants eradication of drugs
"The US is a country that is accepting its co-responsibility for the Colombian problem, due to the demand for drugs which is fuelling the conflict," he said.

"They are understanding their responsibility in Colombia's problems and they are acting on it.

"Unfortunately I cannot say the same about European countries.

"The US is a crucial ally in the war on drugs trafficking and terror, and in Colombia they are totally linked."

New goals

So President Uribe has designed a new plan he will present to President Bush.

Plan Colombia's target was the reduction by 50% of drug crops.

Now the aim is to eliminate drugs altogether and destroy the illegal armies that protect, encourage and profit from the 600 tonnes of cocaine and 10 tonnes of heroin that leave Colombian shores every year.

Of course Colombia wants more resources from the US, more helicopters, more technology and intelligence.

And so President Uribe will present himself as the keenest recruit for the war on terrorism and at the same time promise to confront the US scourge of illegal drugs.


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