U.S. Delegation Arrives in Colombia
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
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
``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
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
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.