BOGOTA, Colombia -- The Bush administration's plan to help Colombia protect an oil pipeline from guerrilla attacks proves that Washington wants to intervene militarily in this country's civil war, a rebel leader said Wednesday.
"The mask has been taken off," rebel commander Simon Trinidad said in a telephone interview from a southern stronghold of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC.
Bush administration officials announced plans Tuesday to train and arm Colombian troops to protect a key oil pipeline that has been a frequent target of guerrilla attacks.
The move, which faces debate in the U.S. Congress, marks a departure from a policy that had previously limited military aid to Colombia to wiping out drug crops controlled by the rebels and their paramilitary foes.
The FARC has long opposed Washington's anti-drug aid, which has provided for the training of anti-narcotics troops by U.S. special forces, dozens of combat helicopters and fumigation planes. The aid is part of an anti-drug initiative, called Plan Colombia.
"From the beginning we said that Plan Colombia was a counterinsurgency plan," Trinidad said. "No one believed the story that it was a plan against drug trafficking. Now the mask has been taken off."
Withdraw U.S. troops
Instead of increasing aid to the Colombian military, Trinidad insisted U.S. military personnel be withdrawn from this South American country.
"They are here to pursue a war against our own people, and they have taught the military the doctrine of ... state terrorism," he said over the phone from Los Pozos, inside a safe haven that President Andres Pastrana granted to the rebels three years ago.
The plan outlined Tuesday calls for Washington to provide $98 million to train and equip Colombian troops to protect the 480-mile Cano-Limon oil pipeline, which ferries oil to the Caribbean coast for Los Angeles-based Occidental Petroleum and other companies.
Colombia's state oil company Ecopetrol said rebel sabotage of oil operations cost 24 million barrels in lost crude production last year. Colombia is the 10th-biggest supplier of oil to the United States.
"We are committed to help Colombians create a Colombia that is a peaceful, prosperous, drug-free and terror-free democracy," the leader of the U.S. delegation leader, Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman, said on Tuesday during a visit to Colombia.
Grossman headed a delegation to Colombia this week. While he returned to Washington Wednesday, Randy Beers, Assistant Secretary of State for Counternarcotics and Law Enforcement, traveled to Arauca state, where the pipeline is located, embassy officials said.
Under restrictions set by Congress, up to 400 U.S. military personnel can currently be stationed in Colombia at one time. They have been deployed as part of Washington's attempts to undercut rebel drug profits, to stem the flow of cocaine and heroin to the United States, U.S. officials say.
However, the tightening U.S. relations with Colombia also further links Washington to a military with a weak human rights record.
Colombia's war has ground on for 38 years, even as President Andres Pastrana's administration pursues peace.