Bush to meet Colombian President Pastrana at end of month
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. President George W. Bush will meet with Colombian President Andres Pastrana on February 27 in Washington, Colombian Foreign Minister Guillermo Fernandez de Soto announced Tuesday.
The topics of drugs and peace are likely to be high on the agenda for the meeting, which Fernandez announced following a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell at the U.S. State Department.
The United States is heavily invested in Colombia's counter-narcotics efforts, dubbed "Plan Colombia." Under the Clinton administration, Congress approved $1.3 million dollars in aid, including military training and equipment, human rights and law enforcement reform and alternative development for farmers as an incentive to stop cultivating drugs.
A large portion of the money has gone toward training Colombian army battalions and equipping them with U.S. military helicopters for use in rebel-held territory.
On Tuesday Powell and Fernandez discussed taking a regional approach toward Colombia's drug war and the shaky peace process between the Colombian government and Marxists rebels in the southern area of the country.
Last week in meetings with the rebels, Colombian President Andres Pastrana agreed to continue peace talks on Wednesday with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the country's largest guerrilla group.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher called Tuesday's meeting between Powell and Fernandez a positive discussion about the effectiveness of the anti-drug campaign.
'Andean strategy' to fight drugs considered
Boucher said Powell assured Fernandez of the Bush administration's "strongest support" for the Plan Colombia effort.
Fernandez told reporters he gave Powell a "very detailed analysis" about how Plan Colombia was being implemented. The most tangible measure of the plan's results, he said, was the eradication of 30,000 hectares of cocoa fields in the country.
Fernandez also emphasized the need to include Colombia's neighbors -- Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Panama and Brazil -- in the anti-drug effort.
Leaders in the region have been skeptical of Plan Colombia, expressing concern that armed clashes between the rebels and the Colombian government will result in a spillover of refugees and drug production across the border. Already, they have sought increased U.S. funding to combat the problem.
Powell expressed an interest in "looking at what we do with neighboring countries" to "make it an Andean sort of strategy," Boucher said.
Legislation to increase trade discussed
Luis Alberto Moreno, Colombia's ambassador to Washington, told CNN that Fernandez and Powell also discussed the renewal of U.S. legislation to increase trade to drug-producing nations in an effort to stimulate the economies of the region.
He said Powell agreed the Andean Preference Act, enacted under the first Bush administration, should be extended when it comes up for renewal later this year.
The men also discussed the peace process in Colombia.
State Department spokesman Boucher welcomed the decision Monday by the Colombian tribunal to convict and sentence a retired general for failing to prevent the July 1997 massacre of at least 22 people by paramilitary forces.
The Colombian government has been criticized for ignoring human rights violations by right-wing paramilitary in the war against the leftists rebels.
"It's long been our position that cooperation between members of the Colombian armed forces and the paramilitary groups is unacceptable, and we welcome this decision by the courts," Boucher said.
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