BOGOTA, Colombia The United States will provide Colombia with counterrorist aid in addition to military aid to fight drug trafficking as part of the new global war on terrorism, the U.S. ambassador to the South American country said Friday.
Washington plans to train and equip elite anti-kidnapping and bomb squads, assist civilian and military counter-terror investigators and help Colombia guard its oil pipelines from rebel bomb attacks, Ambassador Anne Patterson said in an interview with The Associated Press.
The new aid would be in addition to a controversial U.S. military plan aimed at helping Colombian security forces fight leftist rebels and right-wing paramilitaries, who have been embroiled in civil war for 37 years.
Fighting drugs a main source of funding for the rebel groups and paramilitaries would remain the main U.S. focus. But "there's no question we are now focusing more on terrorism in Colombia" after the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington, Patterson said.
Two leftist Colombian rebels groups and a rival rightist paramilitary faction are on the State Department's list of foreign terrorist organizations.
Patterson said the United Sates had already planned to aid and provide intelligence assistance to Colombian anti-kidnapping squads before last month's attacks. That plan and other anti-terrorist efforts would now be "intensifying," she said.
Colombian President Andres Pastrana and President Bush are scheduled to meet in Washington on Nov. 11 to review relations, Foreign Minister Guillermo Fernandez de Soto said Friday.
"All of the (Colombian) outlaw groups have to understand that it's not just rhetoric that the world changed after Sept. 11," Fernandez de Soto told reporters.
Rebels are responsible for the majority of the more than 3,000 kidnappings reportedly annually in Colombia, and have been waging a sabotage campaign against oil pipelines. The nation's largest guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, has also kidnapped and killed U.S. citizens in Colombia.
Washington is also turning up its scrutiny of landowner-backed paramilitary groups that are waging a brutal massacre campaign against suspected leftists.
Patterson said the State Department on Friday was to cancel the visas of five Colombians believed to be helping finance the paramilitary United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, or AUC. She would not provide more information on the suspects.
She said the U.S. Embassy has information on at least 45 other alleged AUC financiers, and was checking to see whether any of them had U.S. visas.
As part of the counter-terror fight, the U.S. government also is trying to trace foreign bank accounts managed by the guerrillas and paramilitaries or their civilian backers, Patterson said.
She said embassy investigators were looking over canceled checks from a Miami bank account allegedly used to finance the paramilitaries. The checks were discovered by Colombian troops in a raid this month near the city of Cali.
Washington's counter-drug aid includes training for Colombian counternarcotics troops and donations of helicopters and crop dusters for eradication of drug plantations guarded by rebel and paramilitaries.
Earlier this week, Patterson said Washington would seek to extradite guerrilla and paramilitary members charged in the United States with drug trafficking and money laundering.
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