Neighbors Worry About Colombian Aid 

Neighbors Worry About Colombian Aid 
Posted by FoM on August 25, 2000 at 08:23:23 PT
By Clifford Krauss
Source: New York Times
As President Clinton prepares to visit Colombia next week and open the spigot of military aid, the country's neighbors are expressing concerns that a step-up in the fighting here could push coca growing, drug trafficking, refugees and even fighting across their borders. The Colombian conflict has already led to guerrilla incursions into Panama and Venezuela for safe haven. 
United States military officials warn that one Colombian rebel group already exerts influence over Indian dissidents in Ecuador, and new Colombian plantings of coca and poppies have been reported in Peru. But leaders around the region say that the nature of the war is about to change with the release of $1.3 billion in new American aid over the next two years to train and equip an antinarcotics army brigade and that the impact on their nations is likely to increase. The brigade will be outfitted with 60 helicopters that will support police efforts to eradicate the coca fields and shut down trafficking operations in two southern Colombian provinces largely controlled by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, the biggest rebel faction. Whether or not the rebels stand and fight to support the coca growers and traffickers, whose protection money finances their war effort, tens of thousands of coca growers are likely to move far and wide, taking their seedlings and guerrilla protection with them. That was the message Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright heard from nervous Ecuadorean and Brazilian leaders on her trip through South America last week. It was repeated when Ecuador's President, Gustavo Noboa, came to Bogotá on Wednesday to ask President Andrés Pastrana that his government be kept informed of all military operations in southern Colombia so the Ecuadorean Army could prepare for any incursions of coca growers, refugees or guerrillas across its frontier. "Our worry is that the removal of this cancerous tumor will cause it to metastasize into Ecuador," Ecuador's foreign minister, Heinz Moeller, told Colombian reporters on Wednesday. He noted that successful efforts by Peru and Bolivia to eradicate coca plantings in recent years encouraged more cultivation in Colombia, worsening this country's drug problem while having little impact on world cocaine supplies. United States officials call it the "balloon effect," when they succeed in attacking drug activity in one country or region, only to see it pop up again in some other place. They note that when the Central Intelligence Agency and the Drug Enforcement Administration succeeded in helping the police in Colombia arrest the leaders of the Cali drug cartel several years ago, other organizations emerged elsewhere in the country to take the cartel's place and the flood of drug exports continued. These new organizations, weaker then their predecessor, sought protection from the Colombian guerrillas and have pumped up their powers with large financial support. Even Peru's president, Alberto K. Fujimori, who took a hard line against guerrillas in his country in the early 1990's, told reporters this week that he was concerned that an escalation of the fighting in Colombia "could generate a wider conflict, one in which the FARC retreats into Peruvian territory." United States and Colombian officials are trying to assuage Latin American leaders, arguing that the new military effort in southern Colombia -- which is part of a broader national military and humanitarian effort called Plan Colombia -- is an attempt to force the FARC to negotiate seriously in peace talks, which have stalled in recent months. "This is a peace plan, not a war plan," is how Foreign Minister Guillermo Fernández de Soto of Colombia characterizes his government's new initiative to his regional colleagues. Gen. Fernando Tapias, the chief of the Colombian armed forces, argued last week that eradicating the coca fields in the Putumayo and Caquetá provinces of Colombia would deprive the FARC of a source of hundreds of millions of dollars a year, and hence its ability to make war. "There will be peace, but first there will be war," he said in an interview with the Brazilian newspaper Folha de São Paulo. "With or without Plan Colombia, things are going to get worse." On her trip last week, Dr. Albright offered Ecuador $15 million to help Colombian refugees. Ecuadorean leaders publicly backed Plan Colombia, despite their concerns, but Brazilian leaders told her they would not contribute to the program. "Brazil does not have the same level of commitment as the United States in the program to fight drug trafficking in Colombia," said Brazil's foreign minister, Luiz Felipe Lampreia. Panama, which has not had an army since the United States invasion that overthrew Gen. Manuel Noriega in 1989, has begun moving hundreds of police officers to the Colombian border and has requested $30 million from Washington to bolster efforts to defend itself from a growing number of border incursions by Colombian guerrillas, drug traffickers and coca growers. Brazil has also begun to reinforce its long, porous border with Colombia, and is buying four French Cougar AS-532 helicopters to increase the mobility of its border patrols. Peru has moved a fleet of MI-17 helicopters from its border with Ecuador to its Colombian frontier in recent months. And Venezuela, which has long complained of Colombian guerrilla incursions, has also beefed up its border guard, which now stands at an estimated 25,000 troops. Despite such preparations, there have been persistent reports that the Colombian guerrillas have established cordial relations with President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, a populist who is critical of the United States role in Latin American affairs. This week, one of the leading commanders of the National Liberation Army, the second largest guerrilla group here, announced that his force had reached a formal agreement with Venezuela that included a cease-fire along the border. Venezuela's foreign minister, José Vicente Rangel, denied that there was any agreement with the guerrilla group, "whether tacit or explicit," though he acknowledged that there had been contacts. But Mr. Rangel went on to say that his government's concerns about an escalation of the four-decade-old civil conflict in Colombia would be vigorously voiced at a meeting of Latin American presidents in Brasília on Aug. 31, the day after President Clinton's eight-hour trip to Colombia to kick off Plan Colombia. "There are inevitable and basic fears Venezuela shares with other neighboring countries that when this plan is put into operation there will be a flood of Colombian refugees moving toward the frontier zones," Mr. Rangel told reporters this week. The new American-supplied and trained antinarcotics brigade will not be fully ready for combat until well into 2001. But there is already growing evidence that the guerrillas are using the remote, permeable borders of Colombia's neighbors to wage their war. President Fujimori announced this week that Peruvian intelligence had uncovered an international arms ring that had trafficked 10,000 Russian assault rifles from Jordan through Peru and across the Colombian border to FARC units. Mr. Fujimori charged that high Jordanian military officials were involved in the operation, and among those arrested were two Peruvian military officers. "We're concerned," Mr. Fujimori said, "that these FARC arms shipments are meant to counteract the military support the United States is now giving Colombia." Published: August 25, 2000 Source: New York Times (NY)Copyright: 2000 The New York Times CompanyContact: letters nytimes.comAddress: 229 West 43rd Street, New York, NY 10036Fax: (212) 556-3622Website: Articles:Clinton's Day in Colombia - Enough to Help? Worried of Aid to Colombia Articles On Killer Fungus: CannabisNews Articles ON Colombia: 
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