Colombian president trying to enlist U.S. help in war on rebels

Wednesday, April 17, 2002

BOGOTA, Colombia -- His peace dreams in shambles and guerrillas setting off bombs in Colombian cities, President Andres Pastrana flew to Washington on Tuesday seeking approval to use U.S. counterdrug aid in his country's war against leftist rebels.

By casting Colombia as a Latin American beachhead in the global war on terror, Pastrana should find broad sympathy during the three-day visit. But he will also encounter skepticism from lawmakers and human rights activists who fear the United States is sliding into a Vietnam-style entanglement in the Andes.

The Bush administration -- in a major departure for U.S. policy -- has already asked lawmakers to eliminate firewalls preventing the use of helicopters and other counterdrug aid to fight guerrillas.

Bush is also asking Congress for $133 million to help Colombia stop guerrilla attacks on an oil pipeline, reduce kidnappings and rebuild bombed police stations -- plus $439 million in longer-term aid.

U.S. Special Forces would continue training Colombian troops, but there are no plans to involve U.S. troops in combat or increase their number in the country, officials say.

Pastrana, whose four-year term ends in August, is scheduled to visit President Bush at the White House on Thursday.

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