Published on Thursday, August 24, 2000 by Agence France Presse
Colombian, US Human Rights Groups Blast Clinton's Waiver On Military Aid
BOGOTA - Colombian opposition leaders warned Wednesday that a 1.3 billion dollar US aid package to counter drug trafficking will unleash an intensified campaign of rebel violence here, a week before US President Bill Clinton is to visit.

Opposition leader Jaime Dussan, a fierce critic of US financial assistance to Colombia's program to bring peace to the nation, warned the package could accelerate the 36-year civil war.

"When an empire decides to pour more fuel on the fire, knowing how delicate the human rights situation is, it's because it wants to take us to the point of no return," he said. "Who will be able to stop this war?"

His comments came after US President Bill Clinton -- who is to make an official visit to Colombia on August 30 -- earlier Wednesday signed a waiver that authorized the US aid package even though Colombia has failed to meet the human rights conditions set by Congress.

Clinton will meet briefly with Colombian President Andres Pastrana next Wednesday in the Caribbean port city of Cartagena to show US support for Pastrana's 7.5 billion dollar initiative to fight drug trafficking and quell rebel violence.

On Wednesday, US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright justified the presidential waiver by Clinton saying the United States intended to keep the pressure on Colombia.

"We will continue to press on this ... We think that they have made some good faith efforts and are making very good faith efforts on this and that they need to continue to do this," Albright said.

"We believe that the waiver was a good idea, and that certification is very important and we need to be supportive of President Pastrana in the process," she said.

Colombian non-governmental organizations also rejected the decision by the United States to unblock the aid package.

According to Jorge Rojas, director of an organization that gives aid to people displaced by the civil war: "We would have hoped for cooperation to strengthen policies of respect for fundamental guarantees.

"We don't think it's a good idea for this military aid to be given," Rojas said, as US human rights organizations also expressed their opposition to the move.

New York-based Human Rights Watch had also urged the US government to suspend the Colombia aid package until conditions are met.

"Not a single one of the five human rights provisions contained in the legislation has been satisfied," said HRW executive director for the Americas division Jose Miguel Vivanco earlier this week.

"It would be inconceivable, given Colombia's glaring human rights failings, for the State Department to grant certification," he added.

In a demonstrative act of violence to protest Clinton's visit, meanwhile, rebels on Wednesday blew up a highway toll in northern Colombia.

The National Liberation Army (ELN) which perpetrated the attack has also threatened to launch bomb attacks against the country's main oil pipeline.

US operator of the pipeline, Occidental Petroleum recently suspended production at the Cano Limon oil field, because of damage caused to it and to the pipeline -- which carries crude to the Caribbean port of Covenas -- by earlier guerrilla attacks.

The main rebel group, however, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), said it did not intend to carry out any "guerrilla action" to sabotage Clinton's visit.

Security in the province of Bolivar has been stepped up ahead of Clinton's trip, with Colombian federal and secret police and army collaborating in the effort.

Copyright 2000 AFP