The New York Times
March 26, 2002

U.S. to Broaden Aid for Colombia's Fight Against Rebels


              BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) -- The United States should soon be able to help
              Colombia defend itself against insurgent groups and not just drug traffickers, the
              head of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration predicted Tuesday.

              During a visit to the world's main cocaine producing nation, DEA chief Asa
              Hutchinson said he expects the Congress will approve a Bush administration
              request for authority ``in fighting both the terrorists and the drug traffickers''

              U.S. and Colombian officials are increasingly using the term ``terrorists'' to
              refer to leftist guerrillas and an illegal right-wing paramilitary group fighting in
              Colombia's 38-year war. Both have terrorized civilians and each is believed
              to rely on profits from the drug trade.

              But until now, U.S. military aid to Colombia has been restricted largely to
              anti-narcotics purposes.

              Although no direct U.S. combat role is envisioned, the Bush Administration
              -- under a request made last week -- is reportedly considering more direct
              counterinsurgency aid and training. Some critics worry that could draw
              Washington too deeply into Colombia's 38-year conflict.

              With rebels moving ever deeper into the drug trade -- and in some instances
              becoming ``one and the same'' as traffickers -- Hutchinson said broader
              military aid is justified.

              ``President Bush remains committed to continuing the U.S. support of
              Colombia in its fight against terror, terror which the world now knows is
              funded to a large extent by drugs,'' he said, during a speech at police
              headquarters in Bogota.

              The DEA chief pointed colorfully to the case of a Colombian guerrilla leader
              indicted in the United States this month for drug trafficking.

              ``As he and others hide in the jungle, waiting as a crouching lion to pounce
              on his next victim, he believes he is above the law. He is wrong. He must be
              brought to justice,'' Hutchinson said.

              At a later news conference, Hutchinson declined to comment on whether an
              operation was afoot to capture the rebel, Tomas Medina, of the
              Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. U.S. prosecutors say
              his unit, based in jungles near the Brazilian border, conspired with Brazilian
              traffickers to ship cocaine to the United States.

              Hutchinson said Colombia's main paramilitary leader, Carlos Castano of the
              United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, or AUC, is also under U.S.
              investigation for drug trafficking.

              The DEA has cited Castano before as a drug trafficker, but he has not been
              indicted in the United States.

              Whether Castano -- and other guerrilla leaders beside Medina -- are
              indicted will depend on how much evidence U.S. authorities can collect,
              Hutchinson said.

              Hutchinson was also asked about a message posted on the Internet Tuesday
              by Castano, in which the paramilitary leaders says he has been trying to help
              dozens of Colombian drug traffickers turn themselves over to U.S. justice --
              apparently in plea deals.

              ``We do not negotiate with narco-traffickers unless they simply want to
              know how to surrender,'' the DEA chief said.