Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 1998 The New York Times Company
Author: Steven Lee Myers 
Pubdate: Tues, 1 Dec 1998 


CARTAGENA, Colombia -- Secretary of Defense William Cohen and Colombia's
new president, Andres Pastrana, announced steps Monday to intensify
military cooperation in the war on drug trafficking, including a pledge to
increase Pentagon training of Colombia's armed forces and to share more
aerial and satellite intelligence data.

The United States and Colombia have worked closely together to stanch the
flow of drugs for decades, but the new steps underscored the deepening of
American diplomatic and military engagement after the election of Pastrana,
a reformist who replaced Ernesto Samper.

On Tuesday, Cohen and Colombia's defense minister, Rodrigo Lloreda, are
scheduled to sign an agreement setting up a formal working group that will
bring officials from both countries together for regular consultations. The
United States has similar relationships with Argentina, Chile and Mexico.
The agreements come on the heels of a sharp increase in aid and equipment,
including six Black Hawk helicopters that Congress approved for Colombia's
fight against narcotics as part of last month's increase in spending on
defense and intelligence. The aid will total $289 million, nearly triple
the recent annual American contributions to Colombia's anti-drug efforts.
Much of the discussion during Cohen's meetings with Pastrana and other
Colombian leaders here focused on how the United States can help Colombia's
police and military to make the best use of the unexpected windfall, which
was driven by Republicans in Congress.

"Clearly we are being treated completely differently than was the case
during the previous four years," Pastrana said Monday, referring to the
Clinton administration's isolation of his predecessor, Samper, because of
evidence indicating he accepted campaign funds from drug traffickers.
Appearing with Pastrana after a breakfast meeting at the president's guest
house along the bay near this Caribbean port, Cohen praised the new
Colombian government and said the American military was prepared to help
restructure Colombia's armed forces into a modern professional force. "Our
military background and expertise could be shared with the Colombian forces
to deal with this particular and very serious problem," Cohen said. Cohen
is in Cartagena to attend a three-day conference of defense ministers from
all countries in the Western Hemisphere except Cuba. The conference, the
third since 1995, is meant to increase cooperation in the fight against
drugs and terrorism and to cement the transition many Latin American
countries have begun in establishing civilian control over their
militaries. That the conference even took place here in Colombia has been
seen as an improvement in Colombia's international standing; last year's
conference, also planned for Cartagena, was canceled because of tensions
over Samper. Since he was elected four months ago, Pastrana has, by
contrast, gone to Washington twice for meetings with President Clinton.
Cohen's current visit is the highest-level visit to Colombia by a U.S.
official during Clinton's tenure. Cohen's aides emphasized that any new
help to Colombia's police and military would only involve the fight against
drug traffickers and not against the leftist insurgents who have battled
the central government here for years. But the increasing aid and
cooperation has blurred the line between the two wars Colombia is fighting,
raising concerns among some human rights advocates that the United States
is involving itself in Colombia's civil war. The Americans agreed, for
example, to provide additional aerial and satellite photographs of a large
swath of rebel territory that Pastrana's government unilaterally evacuated
on Nov. 7 as a way to spur peace talks with the rebels.

A senior American official said Monday that the Colombians wanted the added
intelligence to make sure drug traffickers did not use the withdrawal to
expand operations in the area, but the information could be used to observe
rebel movements as well.

Lloreda, Colombia's defense minister, who expressed pessimism that his
president's gesture would produce a peace accord, said in an interview that
Colombia needed to strengthen the military to defeat the rebels and that
American aid, even if ostensibly devoted to narcotics, helped that effort.
"The counternarcotics aid will help liberate troops," he said, "so they can
fill other roles." 
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Checked-by: Richard Lake