June 18, 2002

Colombia president-elect makes crucial visit to U.S.

                 BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) -- During a crucial trip to the United States that
                 began Sunday, Colombia's President-elect Alvaro Uribe is expected to find
                 support for his plans to fight drugs and a decades-old guerrilla war.

                 But with a scandal here over the possible misuse of U.S. drug-fighting aid, the
                 Harvard-educated former state governor will have to overcome concerns to secure
                 more money from Washington.

                 Elected in a landslide on a law-and-order platform, 49-year-old Uribe will appeal to
                 Washington for additional funds to stop shipments of cocaine and heroine from
                 flooding across Colombia's borders.

                 The drug trade fuels a 38-year civil conflict pitting leftist rebels against paramilitary
                 fighters and government troops which kills thousands of people every year.

                 On Saturday, police said the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or
                 FARC, killed five police officers and blew up a private helicopter in Cundinamarca

                 The policemen were ambushed by the rebels while trying to deliver money from the
                 aircraft to a nearby bank, said Gen. Jorge Enrique Linares of the National Police.

                 The United States has provided $1.7 billion in mostly military aid over the past two
                 years to help Colombia curb the narcotics industry.

                 Earlier this month, the Colombian government launched an investigation of 60
                 police officers -- including high-ranking counter-drug officers -- stemming from
                 the disappearance of more than $2 million in U.S. funds slated for the drug war.

                 Although the U.S. Embassy has downplayed the scandal, it may prompt
                 Washington officials to demand that Uribe clamp down on institutions receiving
                 U.S. dollars, said Michael Shifter, an analyst at the Inter-American Dialogue in

                 "I do think it kind of reinforces a sense that has been in Washington for some time
                 -- that this whole program is perhaps not going as well as some would have
                 hoped," Shifter said.

                 The growing scandal has reportedly led to tense relations between drug-fighting
                 forces and the U.S. Embassy. However, a U.S. embassy official who spoke on
                 condition of anonymity said recently that officials remain confident in the police.

                 During the five-day trip, Uribe is scheduled to meet separately with Defense
                 Secretary Donald Rumsfeld; Secretary of State Colin Powell; Sen. Joseph R. Biden
                 Jr., D-Del., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; and Condoleezza
                 Rice, President Bush's national security adviser.

                 Uribe's visit comes as Washington considers lifting restrictions on the drug-fighting
                 aid to allow the Colombian government to use it to battle armed groups.

                 The Bush administration is also asking Congress for $133 million to train Colombian
                 soldiers to protect a lucrative oil pipeline -- plus $439 million in longer-term aid.

                 In addition to outline his plans for the war against drugs and insurgents, Uribe will
                 also explain how he plans to stimulate the country's dismal economy, said Martha
                 Lucia Ramirez, Uribe's newly appointed defense minister.

                 "It's indispensable to share (those plans) with the United States, which is a friend of
                 Colombia and our partner," said Ramirez.

                 Uribe's success in securing more aid will also depend on whether he can convince
                 lawmakers that his government wi ll battle the right-wing paramilitary army -- a key
                 condition on previous U.S. aid.

                 During the presidential campaign, Uribe fought off charges that he is linked to the
                 outlaw army, known as the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, or AUC.

                 Although he has said he'll fight the AUC with the same rigor that he plans on
                 battling the rebels, one of the first things he plans to do upon taking office August 7
                 is begin recruiting 1 million civilians to monitor rebel activity. Human rights groups
                 fear it could strengthen the paramilitary army.

                 Before his talks in Washington, Uribe is scheduled to meet with U.N.
                 Secretary-General Kofi Annan in New York to ask the United Nations to contact
                 rebel leaders and probe their willingness to restart peace talks.

                 Uribe has said he is ready to talk with insurgents if they first declare a cease-fire
                 and an end to hostilities -- goals that eluded President Andres Pastrana during more
                 than three years of talks with the rebels.

                  Copyright 2002 The Associated Press.