Source: Minneapolis Star-Tribune Contact: Website: http://www.startribune.com/ Pubdate: 30 Mar 1998 Author: Tom Raum, Associated Press Writer Helicopters for Colombia Urged WASHINGTON (AP) -- The House voted Monday to press the Clinton administration to provide three sophisticated Black Hawk helicopters to the Colombia police in the war against drugs. Sponsors of the resolution argued that Congress had voted last year to procure the three helicopters -- costing $36 million total -- for the Colombian National Police but that the administration has failed to do so. The advanced UH-60L helicopters would augment Colombia' s fleet of aging Vietnam-era Huey helicopters, which sponsors noted were being grounded in this country by the Army and National Guard. The measure passed by voice vote. Rep. Benjamin Gilman, R-N.Y., chairman of the House International Relations Committee, told the House the Huey helicopters are no match for well-organized and well-armed Colombian drug traffickers, who operate in the Andes Mountains at altitudes up to 12, 000 feet. " We have to take this drug problem seriously, " Gilman said, observing that 80 percent of the world' s supply of cocaine originates in Colombia. Congressional skeptics suggested the Hueys were adequate for the job -- and that the Colombia National Police didn' t have the trained pilots to fly the newer helicopters. " This will be taking funds away from Peru and Bolivia, " said Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawaii. But Gilman said that Colombia did have trained pilots able to fly the Black Hawks. He noted that four Americans had been kidnapped in Colombia by rebels just last week -- and were being held at altitudes at which the Huey helicopters cannot operate. He also noted reports that The U.S. Army and National Guard are grounding their fleets of more than 900 UH-1 Huey helicopters until mechanics find the cause of a common gearbox failure. The Army had already placed wide restrictions on the Vietnam-era helicopters -- including barring flights in clouds and over water -- but officials insisted until recently that the Hueys were safe to fly. Copyright 1998 Associated Press.