Pubdate: Thu, 28 Dec 2000
Source: Guardian, The (UK)
Copyright: 2000 Guardian Newspapers Limited
Contact:  75 Farringdon Road, London EC1R 3ER, England
Fax: +44-171-837 4530
Author: Martin Kettle


WASHINGTON -- George W Bush's incoming administration is preparing for a 
more aggressive onslaught on guerrillas and drug traffickers in Colombia, a 
confidential speech by a senior adviser reveals.

Robert Zoellick, who is to be appointed to an international policy post in 
the Republican administration - possibly chief trade representative - said: 
"If the Colombian people are willing to fight for their own country, then 
the US should offer serious, sustained and timely financial, material and 
intelligence support."

His speech, which was delivered to the Council on Foreign Relations a week 
before the November 7 presidential election, suggests a big shift in 
Washington's policy on Colombia, just as President Andres Pastrana appears 
to be on the verge of making peace with the country's second-biggest 
leftwing rebel force, the National Liberation Army (ELN).

The Clinton administration's tried to stay out of the 36-year civil war 
while giving multimillion-dollar aid packages intended for action against 

Rightwing critics such as Mr Zoellick say that policy is soft on leftwing 
guerrilla movements such as the ELN and the larger Farc.

"We cannot continue to make a false distinction between counter-insurgency 
and counter-narcotics efforts," Mr Zoellick said. "The narco-traffickers 
and guerrillas compose one dangerous network."

Leftwing critics, on the other hand, say the Clinton policy gives the 
Colombian armed forces too much leeway to divert US aid to rightwing death 
squads waging a largely unchecked war against the guerrillas.

Death squads have carried out three-quarters of the 4,000 annual political 

One critic, Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, said this week that the 
Clinton administration's refusal to attach human rights guarantees and 
conditions to Washington's latest $1.3bn (#870m) aid package to Colombia 
"sent a terrible signal".

When the issue comes up for review next month, Mr Wellstone says, no aid 
should be given until all human rights terms are met.

But Mr Zoellick's tough speech suggests such that an effort is doomed.

It ignored human rights conditions, and called on the "forces of democracy" 
to combat "new threats to security" in Colombia.

Such a policy appears to align the new administration with the Colombian 
military and the death squads against Mr Pastrana and the left.

The prospect of a change in US policy could hardly come at a more delicate 
time in Colombia's long-running crisis, which has claimed more than 35,000 
lives in the past 10 years and creates 300,000 refugees each year.

Thousands of Colombians have also been kidnapped, by both sides.

Last weekend the ELN freed 42 police officers and soldiers, a Christmas 
gesture which appeared to crown Cuban-brokered talks between Bogota and the 
ELN aimed at establishing a demilitarised enclave run by the ELN in Bolivar 
region in the north.

If it is finally agreed, the land-for-peace deal with the 5,000-strong ELN 
will be similar to a pact two years ago between Mr Pastrana and the Farc.

That deal was criticised because of the continuing claim of human rights 
abuses by Farc and because the armed forces have never accepted the deal's 

That has led Bogota to press for tougher terms in any agreement with the ELN.

Residents of Bolivar are demanding such conditions, because they fear a 
demilitarised zone could lead to increased violence.

The land-for-peace deals with the guerrillas are intended to be a prelude 
to full-scale peace talks. The deal with Farc laid down two years of peace 
talks which have not so far led to any hoped-for agreement.

The Farc has until January 31 to return to talks or see the military 
allowed back into the demilitarised zone.

A deal with the ELN would involve promises by both sides to hold full peace 
negotiations within nine months, Mr Pastrana said this week.
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