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Friday, 4 August, 2000, 20:42 GMT 21:42 UK
Clinton plans controversial Colombia trip
Cocaine pickers in Colombia
Colombia to receive a massive aid package to fight drugs
By Richard Lister in Washington

The White House has announced plans for President Clinton to visit Colombia at the end of August.

The visit, the first by a US president in decades, comes in the wake of US Congressional approval for a controversial new aid package to help the Colombian Government fight the illegal drugs trade.

Although Mr Clinton is expected to spend only a day there, the trip will represent a significant American endorsement of Colombia's President, Andreas Pastrana.

It is also likely to coincide with the first allocation of funds from a $1.3bn anti-drugs package approved by the US Congress in June.

Leading cocaine supplier

Colombian traffickers are estimated to supply about 80% of cocaine sold around the world. But the aid package is proving controversial.

Colombia's special anti-drugs unit undergoing training
Colombia's anti-narcotics unit tackles guerrilla drug dealers
Much of the cocaine trade is linked to the Marxist guerrilla movement, which has battled successive Colombian governments for 40 years.

Some in the US fear that by providing training and helicopters to the Colombian military, the US is becoming enmeshed in a civil war.

In addition, more than 30 human rights groups have written to President Clinton demanding that the new aid be withheld because of the Colombian authority's record on human rights.

Congress requires the Clinton administration to certify that Colombia is addressing such concerns before the aid is released. However, Mr Clinton can press on if he feels it to be in the US national interest.

Administration officials are now having a series of meetings with human rights groups and are impatient to allocate the new funds.

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See also:

23 Jun 00 | Americas
US funds anti-drugs war
23 Jun 00 | Americas
Human rights fears over Colombia aid
12 Jan 00 | Americas
Colombia welcomes US financial aid
10 Jun 00 | Americas
Colombia seizes cocaine lollies
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