May 25, 2002

Security tightened for Colombian election

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) --The government began rolling out a massive security
operation to prevent violence during Sunday's presidential election, which is expected
to usher in a new crackdown on leftist guerrillas in war-torn Colombia.

Rebels have not threatened to disrupt the vote, but a spate of attacks Friday showed
their ability to wreak havoc, and President Andres Pastrana said he was deploying
212,000 army troops and police to guard polling places nationwide

The front-runner, Alvaro Uribe, said he would not let criticism from international
human rights groups derail his plans for tough action against the guerrillas.

Uribe's promise of security through a military buildup and other measures have
earned him broad popular support -- a new poll predicted he might win outright with
a majority Sunday, avoiding a June runoff.

But U.N. and other human rights monitors have cautioned that some of the
proposals, including harsh anti-terrorism laws and creation of a million-strong
civilian defense network, would trample on human rights.

In a radio interview on Friday, Uribe said that he would not buckle under the
criticism just to please people at "international cocktail parties."

"If they think they are going to pressure me to retreat on the public order issue they
are wrong," he said. "We are going to do it with transparency in human rights, but
with total firmness."

Uribe's stance on human rights will be closely watched in Washington, where
Congress is considering a Bush administration request for broader military aid to
Colombia for its nearly four-decade-old fight against rebels.

In the northwestern state of Antioquia, guerrillas blew up a power line and a bridge
Friday. It was unclear which rebel group was responsible, but officials blamed the
largest one, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, for bombs that
knocked down power lines in northern Bolivar state and eastern Arauca state and
interrupted the water supply to Sibate, a town south of the capital, Bogota.

"The FARC has declared war on us and we have to be clear about that," Pastrana
said. "We have to be prepared for terrorist actions."

U.N. human rights monitors in Bogota cited a "difficult pre-election climate,"
accusing guerrillas and rival right-wing paramilitaries of intimidating voters and
interfering with the elections.

"People have been killed because of their political preferences, one presidential
candidate was kidnapped, threats have been made against candidates and attempts
against the lives of some, and voters have been permanently intimidated," a U.N.
statement said.

Uribe survived an assassination attempt in April. Ingrid Betancourt, the candidate for
a small reformist party, was kidnapped by guerrillas in February, but remains on the

The new poll gave Uribe, who is running as an independent, 51 percent of the vote,
with 26 percent going to his closest challenger, former Interior Minister Horacio

Fifty percent plus one vote would give Uribe the victory, avoiding a runoff. The poll,
by Gallup and the National Consulting Center, had a margin of error of 3 percent.

The poll showed former labor leader Luis Eduardo Garzon placing third with 11
percent, followed by former Foreign Minister Noemi Sanin, with 7 percent. Term
limits barred Pastrana from running.

Copyright 2002 The Associated Press.