Reuters: Tuesday June 2 6:50 AM EDT
Report: US to hike Colombia military support
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Clinton administration is expanding its support
for government forces fighting leftist rebels in Colombia with the aim of
stanching the flow of illegal drugs, the New York Times reported Tuesday.
U.S. officials, said the paper, will target insurgents only where they
protect the production of heroin and cocaine, and they said they have no
intention of getting mired in Colombia's internal conflict.
But, citing government documents and interviews with dozens of officials in
Washington, the paper said the separation Washington has tried to make
between the two campaigns -- one against drug trafficking, the other
against the guerrillas -- is increasingly breaking down.
More U.S. training and equipment "are going to shore up basic deficiencies
in the tactics, mobility and firepower of the Colombian military, rather
than for operations directed at the drug trade," the Times wrote.
The Clinton administration has also been considering options that officials
said include additional military training, provision of more sophisticated
helicopters and materiel, and creation of a high-tech intelligence center
that would be run by U.S. officials on Colombian soil, according to senior
U.S. officials, the paper said.
According to the Times, the United States is beginning to look at Colombia
as a grave strategic risk if rebel forces currently battling the government
bond more closely with the drug traffickers. Colombia's troubles then could
spill across borders toward Venezuelan oil fields, the chief U.S. source of
imported petroleum, or into Panama and threaten the Panama Canal.
"This is not a one-night stand," Gen. Charles Wilhelm, the commander of
U.S. military forces in Latin America and the Caribbean, told the Times.
"This is a marriage for life."
The Times said the expanded U.S. aid comes at a delicate moment in
Colombia, which will choose a new president in a run-off election June 21.
At the urging of business groups and popular rallies, the two candidates
who emerged from the first round of elections Sunday have said they would
make renewed efforts to reach a settlement with leftist insurgents.
The paper said a sharp debate is growing within the Clinton administration
and outside about the evolving U.S. policy. On one side are officials who
see U.S. military training given for Colombian military anti-drug efforts
turning into serious human rights violations, as has happened in the past.
On the other side are officials who believe that even the most ambitious
policy proposals are inadequate because political sensitivities will ensure
that it falls well short of Colombia's needs, the Times said.
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