The New York Times
August 29, 2001

U.S. Delegation Arrives in Colombia


              BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) -- A high-level U.S. delegation arrived in
              Colombia on Wednesday to try and steer a course for the Bush
              administration in a nation whose drug trade is fueling Latin America's
              longest-running civil war.

              The U.S. group -- including Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman and
              Gen. Peter Pace, the commander of U.S. military forces in the region -- is
              arriving amid rising anger here at leftist guerrillas, increasing support for the
              military and calls for President Andres Pastrana to take a tougher stance in
              peace talks.

              ``I have come to try to convey that Colombia matters very much to the
              United States,'' Grossman told reporters outside the foreign ministry in
              Bogota's colonial downtown, before heading into meetings.

              Moments before the Americans touched down, a U.N. peace envoy
              appealed for dialogue instead of what he called growing sentiment in favor of
              military solutions to the 37-year conflict.

              ``Those who criticize the search for peace should carefully consider the
              alternative,'' the diplomat, Jan Egeland of Norway, told a press conference in
              the capital, Bogota. ``You cannot shoot your way to reconciliation.''

              Recent criticism from the State Department about rebel activities in a safe
              haven Pastrana granted to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or
              FARC, has prompted speculation that the Bush administration is considering
              widening its assistance to help the Colombian army battle the rebels directly.

              Currently, U.S. aid supports a controversial aerial fumigation program
              against coca and poppy plantations. The guerrillas and a rival right-wing
              paramilitary militia tax the drug crops to fund their operations.

              Many Colombians welcome aid from Washington. But about 70 protesters
              gathered Wednesday outside the fortress-like U.S. Embassy, where they
              unfurled a huge Colombian flag and chanted slogans against Pastrana's
              U.S.-backed drug-fighting strategy.

              The protesters, many of them college students, said the fumigation campaign
              is harming Colombia's environment and is unfair to farmers who scratch out a
              living growing coca, from which cocaine is made, or heroin-producing

              Demonstrators also said the United States should be supporting peace
              efforts, not criticizing them.

              Pastrana faces political pressure to take back the Switzerland-sized safe
              haven in southern Colombia unless peace talks taking place inside the zone
              begin yielding results.

              State Department officials last week accused the FARC of abusing war
              prisoners, storing kidnap victims and engaging in drug operations inside the

              The rebels have also staged attacks from the zone and allegedly received
              training in explosives there from three suspected Irish Republican Army
              members, who are currently in a Bogota prison.

              After meeting with Pastrana on Wednesday, the American delegation is
              scheduled to tour military bases Thursday near rebel territory, where U.S.
              Special Forces have trained Colombian army units and where aerial drug
              eradication operations are based.

              The visit is also aimed at helping set up a trip to Colombia by Secretary of
              State Colin Powell on Sept. 11-12.

              Colombia is the world's leading cocaine-producing nation and a top supplier
              of heroin to the United States. The country's long war claims at least 3,000
              lives a year, is crippling the country's economy and has displaced some 2
              million people in the past decade.