Pastrana calls for more U.S. military aid
BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) -- President Andres Pastrana wants U.S. soldiers
help Colombia protect its infrastructure from rebel attacks even as he
pursues a cease-fire deal with the guerrillas.
In an exclusive interview with The Associated Press, the president said
government wanted U.S. soldiers to train Colombian troops to protect oil pipelines,
bridges and other infrastructure. Currently, U.S. aid is restricted mainly to
supporting Colombian anti-narcotics troops.
"We are asking for collaboration in protecting the infrastructure," Pastrana
Tuesday in the first interview he has given since Colombia's shaky peace process
was dramatically revived last weekend.
The president noted that three of Colombia's provinces might need to ration
electricity following attacks by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or
FARC, on power lines this week.
"We cannot permit what's happening," he said.
However, Pastrana expressed hope that the peace process -- which he initiated
when he took office in 1998 -- would finally bear fruit.
During talks last weekend in a rebel safe haven, which Pastrana ceded to
about three years ago, guerrilla and government negotiators agreed to set cease-fire
terms by April 7. The agreement narrowly averted a collapse of the peace process
and a bloody expansion of the war.
Pastrana said upcoming cease-fire talks will have to determine how to restrict
movement of government forces and rebels to prevent accidental clashes. He
expressed hopes that on April 8, the guns would be silent, allowing broader
negotiations to end 38 yea rs of civil war.
"I think that's the maximum aspiration of the government and of every Colombian,"
Pastrana said in the interview, conducted in a sitting room in the presidential palace.
Pastrana showed uncharacteristic firmness last week with the guerrillas.
such an attitude is required in the global war against terrorism.
"The FARC must understand, as we have all understood, that the world changed
September 11 ... and if there is something that has united us, it is precisely the fight
against terrorism and narco-terrorism."
Colombia's guerrillas and a rival right-wing paramilitary group, all considered
terrorists by the U.S. government, are financing themselves through the cocaine
and heroin trade.
During the interview, the 47-year-old president described his dream of
future: its oil, coal and other resources attracting foreign investors and creating
millions of jobs; its varied and gorgeous landscape beckoning tourists.
Pastrana said he only needed to convince the rebels and paramilitaries
would benefit if the war ends.
"This is the job we have to do ... to tell the violent ones that peace
is the best
business this country can have," Pastrana said.
He said the peace process could be expanded to include a brutal right-wing
paramilitary group if it stops its human rights abuses, including massacres and
He acknowledged that he may not be able to bring peace to Colombia before
term expires next August, but said he hoped it would remain on track for his
successor, who will be chosen in elections this spring.
"If I can't sign a peace accord -- I hope I can do so, but if we cannot
-- we can
leave a process that moves forward, one that is irreversible," Pastrana said.
Copyright 2002 The Associated Press.