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Pastrana, Clinton defend Colombia aid package
CARTAGENA, Colombia (CNN) -- During a joint news conference Wednesday, Colombian President Andres Pastrana and U.S. President Bill Clinton repeatedly challenged the idea that Pastrana's "Plan Colombia" initiative will result in the use of U.S. combat troops in South America.
"This is not Vietnam; neither is it Yankee imperialism," Clinton said in defending a controversial $1.3 billion U.S. aid package to help Colombia's war on drugs. "A condition of this aid is that we are not going to get into a shooting war," he said. "Those are two of the false charges that have been hurled at Plan Colombia, so that won't happen."
The Colombian president was even more emphatic: "While Andres Pastrana is president, we will not have a foreign military intervention in Colombia."
'A massive undertaking'
Clinton's trip to Colombia, the first in a decade by a U.S. president, lends support to Pastrana's $7.5 billion initiative to break the grip that drug traffickers hold on the nation. Pastrana's plan also seeks to make peace with Marxist insurgents financed by drug profits, rev up the economy and strengthen the justice system.
"I hope the people of Colombia will understand it and be patient with him," Clinton said. "He's trying to do two things that no one's ever tried to do at once, but without it I don't think that either problem can be solved. He's trying to fight the narcotrafficking and find a way to have a diplomatic solution to the civil unrest that has dogged Columbia for 40 years. It is a massive undertaking."
Reiterating the U.S. position on the use of troops, Clinton said, "There won't be American involvement in a shooting war because they don't want it and because we don't want it."
However, under his policy, U.S. pilots and military advisers will be training Colombian forces for anti-drug operations.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert, a Republican instrumental in getting the aid through Congress, appeared in Colombia with Clinton, saying "for the sake of our children and our grandchildren, we can't afford to let this fail."
It was a rare show of international policy collaboration in support of Pastrana's plan.
Other U.S. officials accompanying Clinton included Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Attorney General Janet Reno, and U.S. Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Delaware.
Pastrana said Clinton's visit "leads us to know that we are no longer isolated in our struggle," and he praised the U.S. president as "one of his generation's most dedicated peacemakers."
Clinton said there must be an end to human rights abuses by the warring factions in Colombia, security forces as well as the rebels.
Pastrana addressed that concern, saying, "We knew that the eyes of the world would be focusing on us. But we are also asking the world to understand" the weight of the problems facing Colombia.
He also noted that the comprehensive policy is to fight drugs and address social needs. "These resources will be going to the poorest regions -- the areas that are being affected the most by the unrest."
Clinton seeks to assure neighbors
Clinton also tried to reassure the countries that share borders with Colombia. "I would like to make a personal plea to the neighbors of Colombia ... to be strongly supportive of President Pastrana." He said U.S. aid is available to help those countries "deal with these problems at the border, right when they start."
"I just want to assure the other countries. The United States will not abandon you," he said.
Regarding protests and opposition to Plan Colombia, Clinton suggested that "a lot of the opposition for this plan is coming from people who are afraid it will work."
Bomb-making materials seized
Colombian authorities seized bomb-making materials Wednesday six blocks from a location on Clinton's itinerary.
A U.S. Secret Service official told reporters that Colombian police received a tip Wednesday morning and raided the home of known guerrilla sympathizers. The house was six blocks from the Casa de Justicia, a center the president was to tour to see Colombian efforts to help residents deal with judicial concerns.
Police said they found bomb-making ingredients, described as black powder and ammonium nitrate. They also found "thousands" of anti-government pamphlets.
Meanwhile, violent anti-U.S. protests in Bogota left one police officer dead.
The Associated Press contributed to this story, which was written by CNN.com writer Jonathan D. Austin.
Pastrana hopes for gains from Clinton's Colombia visit
Drug Enforcement Administration
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