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BBC's James Reynolds
"It is an intensely difficult time for the Colombian Government"
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Saturday, 5 August, 2000, 01:59 GMT 02:59 UK
Colombia rebels condemn Clinton trip
Army and Red Cross recover body after FARC rebel attack
Critics fear US aid could worsen cycle of violence
Colombia's largest guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), has condemned a planned visit by President Clinton as a violation of Colombian sovereignty.

The brief visit by the president, due to take place at the end of the month, is intended to show solidarity with the Colombian authorities over their war on illegal drugs.

But a FARC spokesman said the trip would be used as an excuse to intervene in the country's internal affairs.

This demonstrates (President Clinton's) appreciation and commitment to Colombia

Colombian President Andres Pastrana
The visit comes in the wake of US Congressional approval for a controversial new aid package worth $1.3bn to help equip and train the Colombian security forces in anti-narcotics operations.

The Clinton administration is keen to provide the aid as soon as possible, but is currently consulting with human rights groups who argue that Colombia's rights record needs to improve first.

Critics say the aid could escalate the fighting between the government and left-wing guerrillas who have links with the cocaine trade, and draw the US into Colombia's civil war.


The one-day visit is being seen as a significant endorsement of the Colombian President, Andres Pastrana, who welcomed what he called President Clinton's "huge effort" during the presidential campaign period.

Colombian President Andres Pastrana
Clinton's visit seen as an endorsement of President Pastrana
President Clinton said: "A peaceful, democratic and economically prosperous Colombia will help to promote democracy and stability throughout the hemisphere."

Our South America correspondent, James Reynolds, says Colombia's once prosperous economy is in recession and every day more and more Colombians are choosing to leave the country for good.

Many Colombians blame Andres Pastrana for their country's problems, while observers criticise him for having little strategy other than hope and optimism.

Improved relations

The visit marks a major turnaround in US-Colombian relations - before President Pastrana came to power two years ago, relations between the two countries were distinctly rocky.

Under the previous President, Ernesto Samper, Colombia was blacklisted as a pariah state by Washington over allegations that he funded his 1994 election campaign with drug money.

But President Pastrana's strategy to crack down on drug production, provide peasants with alternative crops, negotiate peace with left-wing guerrillas and stimulate economic growth has won American support.

Aid controversy

Much of the Congress approved aid package will be spent on US-made helicopters to deploy US-trained army battalions in an anti-drugs offensive.

But the cocaine trade is linked to Colombia's rebel movement, and some in the US feel 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 the new aid be withheld because of the Colombian authority's record on human rights.

Mr Clinton will be making the first presidential visit to Colombia since his predecessor George Bush spent four hours at a regional summit in the port city of Cartagena in 1990.

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See also:

24 Jul 00 | Americas
Colombians search for peace
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Colombia overture to rebels
14 Apr 00 | Americas
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21 Mar 00 | Americas
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24 Dec 99 | Americas
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