Source: Associated Press
Author: Tom Raum
Pubdate: Mon, 30 Mar 1998


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.