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 Saturday, 18 January, 2003, 03:12 GMT
US troops engage further in Colombia
US army in Arauca
US troops will train in Arauca for three months
The United States has deployed troops in eastern Colombia in an area rich of oil and widely seen as a stronghold of Marxist rebels.

US special forces have begun training Colombian troops in counter-insurgency techniques in the province of Arauca.

The army is trying to protect an oil pipeline which has been attacked 200 times in the last two years alone.

It is the first time the US military has been directly involved in Colombia's 39-year civil war.

The BBC correspondent in Bogota says that with a possible war in Iraq looming, and political unrest in Venezuela, Colombia's oil has become strategically important.

This has prompted Washington to overcome its reluctance to get involved in the Colombia's internal strife.

Colombia is the United States' 10th largest supplier of oil.

Ambassador's visit

About 70 US soldiers will spend three months training 6,500 Colombian soldiers in counter-insurgency and intelligence gathering techniques.

"The plan is to start training in two weeks. The US special forces will require a lot of equipment so there will be a lot of flights coming to Arauca in the next days," a US official told the Reuters news agency.

The official said that under US law the special forces would not be allowed to enter into combat.

The assistance, aimed at protecting the 780km (490-mile) long Cano Limon pipeline, is part of the US's $98m aid package to Colombia.

US ambassador Anne Patterson went to Arauca on Friday to meet troops, in conditions of tight security.

She travelled by helicopter, because of the risk of bomb attacks on road transport.

Colombian Defence Minister Martha Lucia Ramirez said the extended US involvement would "make our actions against these groups much more effective and allow us to obtain the result we want, which is to hit these groups hard".

Elaborate security precautions have been taken to protect the lives of the American servicemen in the towns of Arauca and Saravena, where Marxist guerrillas have declared the US troops military targets.

The principal US aim is to ensure that the oil that lies in such abundance under its plains can be exported northward by the American multi-national Occidental Petroleum.

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  The BBC's Jeremy McDermott in Bogota
"The American aid can be used to fight Marxist gorillas and right wing paramilitaries"

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09 Jan 03 | Americas
14 Dec 02 | Americas
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