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Friday, 23 June, 2000, 00:04 GMT 01:04 UK
US funds anti-drugs war
Colombian troops
Colombia's US-trained anti-drugs troops
The US Senate has overwhelmingly approved a billion-dollar aid package to help Colombia fight its drug war.

It will mean that the United States will have a significant role in the South American countries battle against the traffickers.

Colombia is the source of 90% of the cocaine and two-thirds of the heroin seized in the United States.

cocaine harvest
Cocaine pickers at work in Colombia

The drugs are believed to have drained of more than $110bn from the US economy last year.

The Senate approved the financial and military aid plan with a 95-4 vote.

The aid package totalled $1.3bn, including 60 helicopters and funds for the US military to train counter-narcotics brigades in the Colombian army and national police.

Waiting game

The House of Representatives has already endorsed an emergency measure to provide $1.7bn in aid to Colombia.

The Senate vote is a somewhat delayed victory for President Clinton, who pledged the aid for Colombia in January as part of an international push to help President Andres Pastrana's government in the war against drug lords and well-financed guerrillas.

The quicker we can reach agreement... the better off we're going to be

US President, Bill Clinton

"This is a huge, huge issue. And again, I'm grateful it was done on such a bipartisan basis.

"And we just need to get it done as quickly as possible," Mr Clinton told reporters.

The House and Senate-approved aid packages will now have to be put together into a deal, before they are signed into law.

"The quicker we can reach agreement and show that the United States is committed to... fighting the drug wars in Colombia and to strengthening the oldest democracy in Latin America, the better off we're going to be," Mr Clinton said.

Big problem

There is already close international cooperation over drug seizures.

On Wednesday, authorities seized 5,060 lbs (2,300 kg) of Colombian cocaine from a marooned ship in the Caribbean in an operation involving four countries.

The drug shipment, which had an estimated value of up to $82m, had been destined for Europe.

The operation started with a tip-off from Colombian police, and the ship, whose engine failed shortly after a brief stopover in Venezuela, was intercepted close to Trinidad by US Drug Enforcement agents backed by Dutch and French Coast Guard.

In February, the Colombian Navy and US Coast Guard seized six tons of cocaine aboard a ship in the Pacific Ocean - one of the biggest hauls in recent years.

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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
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