Challenges face Colombian leader seeking aid during visit to U.

Sunday, June 16, 2002

BOGOTA, Colombia -- During a crucial trip to the United States that begins today, Colombia's President-elect Alvaro Uribe expects to find support for his plans to fight drugs and a decades-old guerrilla war.

But with a scandal here over the possible misuse of U.S. drug-fighting aid, the Harvard-educated former state governor will have to overcome concerns to secure more money from Washington.

Elected in a landslide on a law-and-order platform, the 49-year-old Uribe will appeal to Washington for additional funds to stop shipments of cocaine and heroine from flooding across Colombia's borders.

The drug trade fuels a 38-year civil conflict pitting leftist rebels against paramilitary fighters and government troops that kills thousands of people every year.

On Saturday, police said the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, killed five police officers and blew up a private helicopter in Cundinamarca province.

The policemen were ambushed by the rebels while trying to deliver money from the aircraft to a nearby bank, said Gen. Jorge Enrique Linares of the National Police.

In northern Magdalena state, a human rights official said on Saturday that two children were killed when a military warplane targeting leftist rebels accidentally bombed their home.

Army spokesman Capt. Jose Florez said he had no information on the killings.

The United States has provided $1.7 billion in mostly military aid over the past two years to help Colombia curb the narcotics industry.

Earlier this month, the Colombian government launched an investigation of 60 police officers -- including high-ranking counter-drug officers -- stemming from the disappearance of more than $2 million in U.S. funds slated for the drug war.

Although the U.S. Embassy has downplayed the scandal, it may prompt Washington officials to demand that Uribe clamp down on institutions receiving U.S. dollars, said Michael Shifter, an analyst at the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington.

"I do think it kind of reinforces a sense that has been in Washington for some time -- that this whole program is perhaps not going as well as some would have hoped," Shifter said.

During the five-day trip, Uribe is scheduled to meet separately with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld; Secretary of State Colin Powell; Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., D-Del., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; and Condoleeza Rice, President Bush's national security adviser.

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