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Last Updated: Thursday, 4 August 2005, 22:38 GMT 23:38 UK
Colombia president at Bush ranch
By Oliver Conway
BBC News, Washington

Colombia's President Uribe (left) with US President Bush at a press conference at the ranch in Crawford, Texas
"A strong and principled leader": Mr Bush praises Alvaro Uribe
Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has met President George W Bush at his ranch in Texas, as part of a two-day visit to the United States.

After talks, the two men pledged to step up their mutual battle against the narcotics trade and leftist insurgency.

The presence of Mr Uribe and his wife at the Crawford ranch is a sign of how important the US-Colombian alliance is.

Colombia has received more than $3bn from the US since 2000 to help it fight drug smugglers and left-wing rebels.

The US is a significant market for illegal narcotics - and Washington is keen to avoid insurgencies in what it views as its own backyard of Latin America.

"Our two nations are working together to fight drug trafficking and terrorism, and to promote security, democracy and the rule of law throughout the Americas," Mr Bush said at their joint news conference.

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Funding from the US has gone into a project called Plan Colombia, under which forces receive training and equipment to root out smugglers and eliminate coca crops.

Mr Bush said the project was working.

"Violent crime in Colombia is at its lowest level in 16 years. Since 2002, murders, kidnappings and terrorist acts in Colombia have all declined significantly," he said.

Mr Uribe said US support had been exemplary.

"The great enemy of Colombian democracy is terrorism. And our great partner in defeating terrorism has been the government and the people of the United States," he said.

Human-rights concerns

However, the US Congress has yet to renew US support for Plan Colombia, and both presidents said it was essential lawmakers did so.

Congress is worried about alleged human rights abuses by the Colombian military and has imposed conditions on existing funding.

PLAN COLOMBIA
Crop-spraying plane
Developed in 1999
Colombian initiative with US aid
Top recipient of US foreign assistance outside Middle East
Roughly $600m a year
Hundreds of US troops in Colombia

Earlier this week, the US state department certified that Colombia had met human rights standards needed to release about $70m of that money - a move that was criticised by Amnesty International.

Mr Bush said he had been assured by Mr Uribe that Colombia was taking alleged abuses seriously.

For all the help from the US, Mr Bush was able to point to one thing Colombia was doing in return - sharing its expertise in fighting drug smuggling and terrorism in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is one of the key fronts in Mr Bush's "war on terror", and he said America was grateful for Colombia's support.

Additionally for Mr Bush, Mr Uribe's visit to his ranch allows him to deflect criticism that he spends too much time on vacation.


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