Pubdate: Sat, 23 Dec 2000
Source: San Francisco Examiner (CA)
Copyright: 2000 San Francisco Examiner
Author: Associated Press


Colombia -- Instead of complaining that a U.S.-backed anti-drug war might
cause the conflict to spill across its borders, Colombia's neighbors should
join the effort, the country's foreign minister said.

All five countries bordering Colombia have expressed concern about a
military offensive aimed at wresting control of Colombia's
drug-producing plantations from armed groups that "tax" the narcotics
industry and earn huge profits.

"Colombia wishes there to be solidarity and cooperation among its
friends," Foreign Minister Guillermo Fernandez de Soto said an
interview with The Associated Press, adding that Colombia's neighbors
share some responsibility -- at least indirectly -- for the violence.

"The problems with the borders are double-edged," he said. "Weapons
are crossing into Colombia across its borders, dynamite and ammunition
come across different frontiers, and precursor chemicals come across
yet other borders," Fernandez de Soto said in the interview late Thursday.

Colombia has maintained some weapons captured from rebels came from
Venezuelan security forces. Ex-Peruvian security force members have
also been implicated in gunrunning to Colombian rebels.

Fernandez de Soto called on other Latin American countries to join the
campaign against the drug scourge, saying their participation was
critical because of the flow of so-called precursor chemicals -- used
to process cocaine and heroin -- and weapons from neighboring countries.

"When there is cooperation on the borders and exchanges of
information, levels of criminality will be drastically reduced,"
Fernandez de Soto said.

Fernandez de Soto said he expected President-elect Bush to continue to
fund the $1.3 billion U.S. initiative and possibly even deepen the
involvement of the United States.

Bush "has said he wants to maintain cooperation in the fight against
narcotics trafficking, which is the common enemy of mankind," he said.

In an Aug. 25 speech in Miami, Bush expressed support for the
Colombian aid, saying it "will help the Colombian government protect
its people, fight the drug trade, halt the momentum of the guerillas
and bring about a sensible and peaceful resolution to this conflict."

Leftist rebels are mostly involved in Colombia's drug trade, using the
proceeds to strengthen their insurgency, although a right-wing
paramilitary group is also involved.

The anti-drug offensive, expected to begin in earnest next month, will
be carried out by Colombian troops trained by U.S. Green Berets, who
will be flown into the war zone aboard U.S.-donated

Colombia is the world's main provider of cocaine and produces a
growing share of heroin.
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