August 27, 2002

Colombia's Uribe blasts army commanders

'What we have to do here is get moving'

BOGOTA, Colombia (Reuters) --Colombia's new President Alvaro Uribe
blasted army commanders in the northeast of the country on Monday, telling
them to either do their job or resign, as he pushes ahead with a massive military
buildup to take on Marxist rebels.

Uribe, whose father was killed by rebels, gave the officers a tongue-lashing on
national television after he learned that the army brigade had failed to act on
information of the latest guerrilla advance.

The 50-year-old lawyer, who took office on August 7 promising to restore order to
a nation gripped by 38 years of guerrilla war, asked military commanders during a
visit to his home province of Antioquia if they were aware of the guerrilla presence
over the weekend.

There was a long silence when the brigade commander replied that they had
constant information, before the president chastised the brigade for being more out
of touch with reality than the rebels.

"Well, this is very revealing ... And in truth it gives the impression that the people
who are living in another world aren't the guerrillas, it's us.

"What we have to do here is get moving and prove whether we are capable (of
defending the country) or not. If we are capable, we will continue with this
responsibility. If not, we will resign. But this is serious," Uribe said, stone-faced.

The sharp, verbal warning was the latest in a campaign by Uribe to produce results
from the armed forces, who have so far failed to stem violence in a cocaine-fueled
guerrilla conflict that claims 3,500 lives a year.

Since taking office less than three weeks ago, Uribe has been constantly touring the
country to review policy and even briefly took command last week of an army
search for 27 tourists abducted by leftist rebels. Speaking through a helicopter
radio, he ordered the commanding lieutenant on the ground "to produce results

On August 12, Uribe decreed a one-time tax on the rich that will help pay for two
new elite mobile brigades with 3,000 troops, 10,000 additional police officers and a
network of 100,000 civilian "police auxiliaries."

Uribe, speaking to the press on Monday, also announced a new reward scheme in
which the government will pay for information leading to the capture of criminals.

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