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2,000 Colombians Protest Drug Plan

September 9, 2000

PUERTO ASIS, Colombia (AP) _ About 2,000 people, including schoolchildren and farmers, protested Saturday against a U.S.-backed anti-drug offensive that is being planned for this cocaine-producing region.

Security forces brandishing assault rifles and grenade launchers kept a close eye on the demonstration in the main plaza of this sweltering Amazonian town. One child held a cutout of a dove with the word ``peace″ written across it. Another held a sign that read: ``Don’t kill us _ we are the hope of Latin America.″

Many demonstrators said they feel threatened by President Andres Pastrana’s ``Plan Colombia,″ which the United States is supporting with $1.3 billion in mostly military aid and is aimed at eradicating drug trafficking.

Under the plan, elite U.S. soldiers are training Colombian troops. Ferried aboard 60 combat helicopters provided by the United States, Colombian soldiers are to seize Colombia’s vast coca-growing areas, which are protected by leftist rebels and rival right-wing paramilitary squads, and allow their fumigation by airplanes.

Farm leader Eber Sanchez said the simple mention of the name Plan Colombia strikes fear in farmers in the area, located near the Ecuador border, about 350 miles south of Bogota.

``Between 30 and 40 families have already fled the region,″ Sanchez said. His claim could not be immediately verified, but thousands of people are expected to be displaced when the counter-drug offensive gets fully underway next year.

Delegates of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees have already visited the Ecuador border region, and are considering building a camp to hold some 5,000 Colombian refugees.

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