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Friday, 14 January, 2000, 00:54 GMT
Albright heads for Colombia drugs talks

Colombian troops Colombia's US-trained anti-drugs troops


By Richard Lister in Washington

The American Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, is due in Colombia to discuss plans for a $1.6bn aid package aimed at curbing the country's illegal drugs trade.

She is the highest ranking US diplomat to go to Colombia in 10 years, reflecting an increasing concern about the growing power of the paramilitary groups responsible for much of the region's drugs trade.

Some 80% of the cocaine which gets into the United States is thought to have come from or through Colombia.

Production there has doubled over the past four years, mostly in areas held by armed revolutionary groups who, for 35 years have been waging war against successive Colombian governments.

US aid

To fight the drugs trade the United States already gives more aid to Colombia than to any other country except Israel and Egypt, but President Clinton has now proposed increasing it to $1.6bn over two years.

Some will go on helping peasant farmers develop alternative crops, but the bulk of the money will be spent on training anti-narcotic military units, and arming them with attack helicopters.

The Colombian rebels say the move will intensify the war, just as peace talks are resuming.

Some in the US Congress - which has to approve the package - have warned that with the drugs trade so closely intertwined with the rebel groups, Washington is in danger of getting drawn in to a foreign war.

Mrs Albright will discuss details of the proposals with the Colombian President, Andres Pastrana, along with ways in which he may be able to get more international assistance.

But her visit underscores the new commitment by the United States to a country with which it has had notoriously difficult relations in the past.

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See also:
12 Jan 00 |  Americas
Colombia rebels end New Year truce
12 Jan 00 |  Americas
Colombia welcomes US financial aid
15 Dec 99 |  Americas
Colombian army hits back at rebels
08 Dec 99 |  Americas
Colombia unveils new anti-rebel force

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