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Last Updated: Monday, 22 November, 2004, 22:19 GMT
US pledges more aid to Colombia
George W Bush and Alvaro Uribe
Bush sent Uribe a strong message of solidarity
US President George W Bush has pledged continued support for the Colombian government in its fight against drug traffickers and left-wing rebels.

He said he would ask the US Congress to extend beyond next year its current package of military and economic aid.

The US has given Colombia more than $3bn in assistance over five years.

Mr Bush was speaking on a four-hour visit to the coastal city of Cartagena, on the final leg of a three-day Latin American trip.

This war against narco-terrorism can and will be won, and Colombia is well on its way to that victory
President Bush
The US president said he was "optimistic" about continued funding but refused to specify the amount.

The BBC's Jeremy Cooke, who is travelling with President Bush, says the visit was designed to send a strong message of solidarity to Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and his people.

'Deadly products'

Mr Bush, who spent the weekend at a summit in Chile, praised Colombia for its efforts against drugs.

"This war against narco-terrorism can and will be won, and Colombia is well on its way to that victory," he said.

Bags of coca paste, which will be then be processed into cocaine, are weighed and sold in a coca market in southern Colombia (Archive photo)
The US funds efforts to destroy the drugs trade at its root
"The drug traffickers who practice violence and intimidation in this country send their addictive and deadly products to the United States," he added.

"Defeating them is vital to the safety of our peoples and to the stability of this hemisphere."

Mr Uribe said he would fight on until Colombia was free of the scourge of drugs.

"We cannot stop this task halfway through. We will win but we have not won yet," he said.

"We have made progress, but the serpent is still alive."

Crop destruction

There was massive security in Cartagena for Mr Bush's visit. About 15,000 security forces, backed by combat helicopters, were on duty and radars were being used to check for hostile planes or missiles.

As part of the security drive, officials banned the sale of alcohol for 24 hours and gave workers the day off, the Associated Press news agency reported.

Under Plan Colombia, the US helps to train the country's security forces and provides them with equipment and intelligence to tackle drug traffickers and destroy coca crops before they can be processed into cocaine.

Critics say the programme has led to the destruction of other crops cultivated by peasants, and has funded unrelated military operations.

Following his brief stop in Colombia, Mr Bush was due to head to his Texas ranch for the rest of the week. The US has its annual Thanksgiving day on Thursday.

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