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Columbia Aid Package Scrutinized

January 12, 2000

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., wants the Clinton administration to better explain what it hopes to achieve with its $1.6 billion plan to bolster democracy in Colombia and at what risk.

``We at least need to see a concerted effort by the Colombian Army to thwart the paramilitary groups, who are responsible for most of the atrocities against civilians, and a willingness by the Colombian Armed Forces to turn over to the civilian courts their own members who violate human rights,″ Leahy said in a statement Wednesday.

Leahy, the ranking Democrat on the appropriations subcommittee that oversees foreign spending, added that trying to compel the Colombian rebels to negotiate by increasing counterinsurgency efforts is ``a costly and dangerous policy.″

President Clinton, who proposed his spending plans Tuesday, acknowledged it will take more than money fix the problems of drug violence and corruption in Colombia. He said the aid would help stem the production and export of illegal narcotics while supporting economic development and improving human rights.

The money would go to train special counternarcotics battalions and buy U.S. helicopters for drug surveillance and eradication.

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright plans to travel to Colombia this weekend to explain the package, which will be part of Clinton’s fiscal 2001 budget. The funds dramatically would increase U.S. involvement in Colombian President Andres Pastrana’s anti-drug strategies.

Some Republicans, including House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., welcomed the proposal, but they also raised concerns about effective delivery of U.S. aid.

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