U.S. to Broaden Aid for Colombia's Fight Against Rebels
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
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
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''
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
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
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 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.