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Bush Seeks to Expand Colombia Aid

March 15, 2002

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Bush Administration will seek to persuade Congress to relax restrictions that limit military aid to Colombia to anti-drug efforts, the White House said Thursday.

For more than a decade, aid to Colombia has been tied to counternarcotics and attempts to change U.S. policy have been unpopular in Congress.

But White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Thursday the administration would seek changes to ``support the government of Colombia in its unified campaign against narcotic trafficking, terrorist activities and other threats to its national security.″

Bush officials plan to ask Congress to ward off the restrictions on aid next week, The Washington Post reported Friday.

House legislators have encouraged President Bush to submit legislative proposals to help Colombia combat three armed groups, all designated by the State Department as terrorist organizations.

Of the three Colombian groups, the leftist FARC rebels are seen as the biggest threat to Colombian democracy.

Rebels have had success with attacks on a 480-mile oil pipeline that runs from northeastern Colombia to the Caribbean coast. Attacks put the pipeline out of commission for 266 days last year at a reported cost of $500 million to the Colombian economy. Also damaged were the interests of the U.S. oil companies that use it.

The administration had already begun to make moves toward expanding U.S. policy.

In February, Secretary of State Colin Powell said the United States should give Colombia about $100 million in military support to help the nation deal with threats to the pipeline.

``I think it’s a close line,″ Powell said. ``I don’t think it’s quite into counterinsurgency, to the extent that they’re not using this investment and this new capability to go running into the jungles looking for the insurgents, but essentially protect a unique facility.″

Bush officials have said there are no plans to send U.S. troops to protect the pipeline.

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