October 29, 1998
U.S. pledges help for Colombian peace bid


                  WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- U.S. President Bill Clinton threw his support
                  behind Colombian President Andres Pastrana's plan to end armed conflict in
                  Colombia on Wednesday as he opened a new era in relations between the
                  two countries.

                  "This is truly a new beginning for Colombia and a new opportunity for our
                  nations to renew our bonds," Clinton said at a joint news conference with the
                  visiting Pastrana.

                  U.S.-Colombian relations sank to an all-time low when the United States
                  revoked the U.S. travel visa of Pastrana's predecessor, Ernesto Samper,
                  and branded him a "truly corrupt president" amid a scandal over allegations
                  he funded his 1994 election campaign with Cali cartel drug money.

                  Pastrana, making the first state visit by a Colombian president since 1975,
                  said he came with the hope of "forging an alliance with President Clinton and
                  the United States" in order to "overcome past problems and enter a new

                  Pastrana, 44, is seeking political and financial backing for his fragile plan to
                  negotiate with leftist guerrillas and end a civil conflict that has killed 35,000
                  people in the past decade alone.

                  The Harvard-educated Pastrana plans to begin talks with Colombia's largest
                  rebel group next month, after temporarily clearing government troops out of
                  an area the size of Switzerland.

                  Clinton pledged to help Colombia as it tries to stop a conflict complicated by
                  rebels and paramilitary groups doing business with violent drug traffickers.

                  "We stand ready to help," he said. "We hope the insurgents and
                  paramilitaries will seize this opportunity the president has offered them by
                  ending terrorism and hostage-taking and involvement with drug traffickers."

                  Clinton said the U.S. government would provide $280 million in new
                  assistance to Colombia -- double the amount from last year -- to help fight
                  the drug trade and bring an end to the conflict.

                  The money was part of a $2.6 billion boost in funding approved by
                  Congress to repress the drug traffic from South America, including the
                  purchase of six powerful Blackhawk helicopters for the Colombian police.

                  Clinton and Pastrana signed an anti-drug alliance committing both countries
                  to "use all means at their disposal" to stem narcotics production and

                  They agreed to use the proceeds from assets forfeited by drug traffickers to
                  bolster Colombia's counternarcotics efforts.

                  "The fight against drugs is our joint responsibility," Clinton said. "It must unite
                  us, not divide us."

                  Colombia is the world's largest producer of cocaine and a major source of
                  heroin sold on U.S. streets.

                  Clinton on Wednesday night was to play host to Pastrana at an elegant state
                  dinner. The VIP guest list included famed Colombian author Gabriel Garcia

                  Pastrana took the opportunity to offer praise for Clinton as the president
                  seeks to survive an impeachment inquiry over his affair with Monica

                  "As a rarity in world history, he is one who forges world peace," Pastrana
                  said. "President Clinton is a friend of Colombia, and in this visit, we have
                  solidified our friendship."

                  ident Clinton is a friend of Colombia, and in this visit, we have solidified our

                  Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.