Rights Groups Urge Clinton to Block Colombia Aid

  Rights Groups Urge Clinton to Block Colombia Aid

Posted by FoM on January 12, 2001 at 21:50:06 PT
Source: CNN Interactive 

 Major human rights groups said on Friday that Colombia's army had failed to sever ties with right-wing death squads and U.S. President Bill Clinton should block what remained of almost $1 billion in aid to fight drug trafficking. The massive two-year package of mainly military aid was approved in July by the U.S. Congress to fund a military push in southern Colombia to combat the Andean nation's booming drug industry. 
Approval of the aid for President Andres Pastrana's "Plan Colombia" included a list of human rights conditions for the release of the money. "Our organizations believe that there has been virtually no attempt made by the Colombian government to meet these conditions," said a joint news release by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). In a move that sparked an outcry among rights groups, Clinton last August freed the bulk of the aid, certifying that Colombia had met some requirements and waiving others. A second certification stamp is needed before the remaining funds are released in 2001. It was not immediately clear exactly how much money remained to be disbursed, although a U.S. State Department official said it was about $48 million. One of the main conditions for receiving the aid was that Colombia's army would break any links it had with right-wing death squads. The death squads are responsible for many of the 35,000 civilian slayings in the last 10 years of Colombia's four-decade conflict. Colombia's war pits leftist guerrillas against right-wing paramilitaries and the armed forces. "In areas of long-standing paramilitary activity, reliable and abundant information shows that the security forces continued to allow paramilitary operations with little or no evidence of actions taken to curtail such activity," the rights groups wrote in a report submitted in December to the State Department. In one of the most brutal attacks by paramilitaries, who often target civilians suspected of collaborating with the guerrillas, a death squad on Nov. 22 killed 38 men after herding them into the church of the Caribbean fishing village of Nueva Venecia. "If these conditions are waived it would undermine the U.S. message on human rights and it would turn a blind eye to paramilitary forces," George Vickers, executive director for WOLA, told Reuters. The United States says the aid is needed to staunch the international flow of cocaine. Colombia is the world's No. 1 producer of cocaine. "Human rights are a central issue in our bilateral ties and we will continue to engage the Colombian government to improve human rights," a State Department official told Reuters. Under the package, unlike anything seen during the Cold War, the United States is equipping the Colombian army with Black Hawk helicopters and training their often ill-disciplined forces. The United States says it wants to target drug traffickers and not be drawn into the guerrilla war. But the guerrilla groups and the paramilitaries now draw much of their funding from the narcotics trade. The sense of urgency about releasing the remaining funds is increased as President-elect George W. Bush's inauguration nears. Bush has expressed a reluctance to intervene in foreign conflicts. Source: CNN (US Web) Published: January 12, 2001Copyright: 2001 Cable News Network, Inc. Contact: Forum: Website Feedback: Related Articles & Web Sites:Human Rights Watch Office on Latin America Articles - Plan Colombia

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