The Washington Post
Saturday, April 7, 2001; Page A14

Colombia, Mexico Link Drug Efforts

Fox Offers Help in Talks With Rebels

By Scott Wilson
Washington Post Foreign Service

BARRANCABERMEJA, Colombia, April 6 -- Leaders of the Western Hemisphere's two largest illegal drug exporting countries, Colombia and Mexico, agreed
today to join forces against a multibillion-dollar drug industry that has brought violence and corruption to both nations.

The visiting Mexican president, Vicente Fox, also pledged to take a more active role on behalf of President Andres Pastrana's government in peace talks with
Colombia's largest rebel army, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

Unlike his predecessors, who allowed the guerrilla army to open offices in Mexico, Fox declared that authorization for the FARC to continue its presence in Mexico
will depend on its commitment to the peace negotiations.

"We have put ourselves at the disposal of President Pastrana and Colombia to do all we can, when called on, in favor of peace," said Fox, who recently allowed
Mexico's far smaller rebel insurgency to conduct a nationwide goodwill tour. "After all, in Mexico we are in the same place: Looking for peace and looking for a way
that all families can live in peace."

While mostly symbolic, Fox's unabashed support for Pastrana comes at an important moment for the Colombian president, whose efforts to secure a peace
agreement after four decades of civil war have yet to yield results.

Fox's highly public agenda today in the capital, Bogota, also seemed to underscore his stated goal of establishing Mexico as an influential player in Latin American
political and commercial life.

Fox, whose conservative candidacy last year ended the 71-year reign of the Institutional Revolutionary Party in Mexico, is scheduled to travel with Pastrana to
Venezuela on Saturday to visit President Hugo Chavez. The goal is to rejuvenate the largely moribund Group of Three, made up of the largest oil-exporting countries
in Latin America, with an eye toward creating a more coordinated economic agenda.

Fox has long supported the peace efforts deployed by Pastrana, who was elected in 1998 on a pledge to bring peace to Colombia.

But today was the first time he made public his warning to the FARC.

"The message for the FARC is clear: Sit down to negotiate and work for peace. If not, you are not going to have good standing nor the attention of Mexico," Fox
said in an interview published today in Bogota's El Tiempo newspaper. "We don't want to be with anybody who is not on the road to peace."

Perhaps the most tangible result of Fox's visit involved a pledge to cooperate against drug trafficking.

In recent months, evidence has emerged that the FARC, which helps fund its 18,000-member army by taxing the domestic drug market, is trying to enter the more
lucrative exporting business.

Colombian news reports have described contacts between FARC leaders and members of Mexico's most powerful exporting cartel, based in Tijuana. Colombia
accounts for roughly 90 percent of the world's cocaine supply, most of it passing through Mexico on its way to the United States.

Pastrana and Fox agreed today to establish a task force made up of each country's defense minister, public security minister, attorney general and other top law
enforcement and justice officials.

The first meeting of the group, charged with coordinating efforts to stop the export of cocaine and the chemicals used to make it, is scheduled for next month in
Mexico City.

                                               © 2001 The Washington Post