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Jeremy McDermott reports from Colombia
"President Pastrana is facing Colombia's worst economic crisis for over 70 years"
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Paul Reynolds reports from Washington
"Mr Clinton said the aid was 'urgently needed'"
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Wednesday, 12 January, 2000, 09:31 GMT
Colombia welcomes US financial aid

The package will help Colombia's anti-drug unit


Colombian President Andres Pastrana has welcomed US President Bill Clinton's announcement of a $1.6bn aid package for the war against drugs.

The Clinton administration is presenting the package - yet to be approved by Congress - as a way of combating those who produce much of the heroin and cocaine on America's streets.

President Pastrana said his government would wage a diplomatic offensive on Capitol Hill in the coming weeks in the hope of heading off partisan squabbling which might prevent Congress approving the aid.

"We'll make a push before the electoral debate can contaminate whatever assistance the United States might lend to Colombia," President Pastrana said.

Backing for democracy

President Clinton said that as well as fighting against drugs, the aid would strengthen democratic institutions in Colombia.

"It will dramatically strengthen and solidify the Colombian Government in its struggle to preserve democracy, to preserve economic growth and preserve order in the country and be a good neighbour," President Clinton said.

"Will it solve all the problems? Of course not. Will it make a big difference? It certainly will," the president said

The administration does not want to be directly involved in Colombia's internal military conflicts - which have left 40% of the country under the control of left-wing guerrillas and right-wing paramilitaries.

A Pentagon spokesman said: "We are not in the counter-insurgency business."

The US already gives Colombia some 300m in military aid every year, making it the third-largest recipient of US aid after Israel and Egypt.

Helicopters

President Pastrana's approval rating has sunk to 30%, as the drugs trade flourishes.

Both Marxist guerrillas and right-wing paramilitaries derive a large proportion of their income from the drugs trade and the Colombian armed forces have struggled to contain them.

There is a military element to the US aid package.

It includes money to help train special counter-narcotics battalions and buy 66 US military helicopters for use in drug surveillance and eradication.

Funds will also be available to encourage farmers to grow other crops and to improve the human rights record of the Colombian justice system.

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See also:
10 Jul 98 |  Americas
Guerrillas' 40-year war
30 Dec 99 |  Americas
Colombia murder rate soars
24 Dec 99 |  Americas
Colombia 'kidnap capital of world'
26 Nov 99 |  Americas
Key expulsion in drugs war
14 Sep 99 |  Americas
Colombia unveils elite anti-drugs unit
07 Aug 99 |  Americas
Colonel's wife faces cocaine charge

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