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Last Updated: Thursday, 18 November, 2004, 16:57 GMT
Uribe defends security policies
Alvaro Uribe
Uribe said his policies were necessary and effective
President Alvaro Uribe has defended his tough policies to try to quash the internal conflict inside Colombia, in an interview with the BBC.

Mr Uribe insisted his administration was "solving all the problems".

"We can no longer have a country [threatened] by guerrillas or defended by paramilitaries groups. We need central control," he said.

Mr Uribe also rejected concerns about his bid to seek another term in office by changing the national constitution.

He said Colombian people had "matured a lot".

Uribe's achievements are extremely heartening
John Wells, Abu Dhabi, UAE

"Four years is a very short time and we have to trust in the maturity and the good sense of our electorate," he added.

Many countries in Latin America impose a one-term limit on presidents, in part because of the continent's experience of military dictatorships, but some countries, including Bolivia and Peru, recently changed their constitutions to permit re-election.

Skewed policy?

In the BBC Talking Point interview, in which a global audience posed questions, Mr Uribe said that security was the prerequisite of all aspects of Colombia's development.

His "democratic security" policy seeks to extend state control to all areas of the country by sending in the army to wrest control from the guerrillas. In some areas, the army has enlisted "peasant soldiers" and there have been numerous allegations of human rights violations.

The government also seeks to eradicate coca production which finances both rebel and paramilitary operations.

Of course we need to eliminate social injustice in Colombia but what is first? Peace
President Uribe
Mr Uribe said the government was "open to dialogue" with every group which "showed good faith".

Mr Uribe acknowledged that only right-wing paramilitaries thus far had participated in that dialogue - but insisted "we are ready to do the same with [left-wing] guerrillas".

The paramilitaries, he said, "have shown they want to participate in the peace process".

Many are wanted on extradition orders to the US for drug-trafficking offences - but have insisted such orders be dropped if they are to participate in the demobilisation process.

AUC fighters
Many fear paramilitaries guilty of crimes will go unpunished
Mr Uribe has also been criticised for neglecting social development at the expense of his fight to crush the conflict.

Mr Uribe rejected the criticism, saying, for example, 750,000 new school places for poor children had been created. But he said peace was the priority.

"Of course we need to eliminate social injustice in Colombia ... but what is first?" he told Talking Point.

"Peace. Without peace, there is no investment. Without investment, there are no fiscal resources for the government to invest in the welfare of the people."

'Democratic security'

Mr Uribe denied there was civil war.

"On one side we have a democratic country... and on the other side, a group of terrorists," he said.

Farc rebel fighter
The rebels may have retreated - but many doubt they are defeated
Mr Uribe also rejected suggestions that assassinations of prominent left-wing figures - usually blamed on the paramilitaries - was going unchecked. He argued that assassinations of trade unionists had fallen from 184 in 2001 to 52 in 2003.

"I have called my programme democratic security," he said. "Security for trade unionists, employers, investors, people of the opposition and my own followers... We don't have discrimination in Colombia."

Plan Colombia - a tough drug eradication programme partly funded by the US - would go ahead, he said.

"If we do not defeat illegal drugs, we are unable to defeat terrorism - illegal drugs are funding terrorism," he said.

The programme has been criticised for destroying other crops cultivated by peasants and funding unrelated military operations, but Mr Uribe said that everything that was being done was vital.

Ask Colombia's president Alvaro Uribe
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Profile: Alvaro Uribe Velez
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Q&A: Colombia's civil conflict
06 May 03 |  Americas
Country profile: Colombia
06 May 04 |  Country profiles

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