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Clinton Proposes $1.3 Billion To Stem Colombian Drug Flow

By Karen DeYoung

The Clinton administration proposed a two-year, $1.3 billion aid program aimed at stemming the flow of Colombian cocaine and heroin into this country.

Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, who announced the package Tuesday at the White House, will travel to Colombia this weekend to explain the proposal to President Andres Pastrana and to consult with him on efforts to gain additional aid from multilateral banks and European allies, said her spokesman, James P. Rubin.

The aid package, if approved by Congress, would vastly increase the U.S. military equipment in Colombia. It includes a request for 30 Black Hawk helicopters and 15 UH-1N Huey helicopters, in addition to 18 Hueys that have already been sent to the Colombian Air Force to carry troops into drug-producing areas.

Senior administration officials said Tuesday they do not expect the number of U.S. military personnel in Colombia, which now fluctuates between 100 and 250, to rise significantly. But they said the U.S. Agency for International Development would beef up its presence.

The administration will ask Congress to approve the bulk of the money, nearly $1 billion, in an emergency supplemental appropriation this spring, with the rest of the new funding in its fiscal 2001 budget request. Existing aid to Colombia totals $300 million, bringing the total Bogota would receive over the next two years to $1.6 billion.

The Drug Enforcement Administration estimates cocaine and heroin exports from Colombia have increased two- to threefold in recent years and supply 80 percent of the U.S. market.

Past criticism of U.S. policy toward Colombia has come from two directions. Congress members have argued that increased assistance should go to drug-fighting police rather than to the Colombian military. Members also warned against U.S. involvement in the guerrilla war and have raised questions about human rights abuses by the Colombian military.

The Clinton administration argues that since the guerrillas control many drug-producing areas and derive most of their income from taxing drug traffickers, the tasks of combating drugs and fighting guerrillas are intertwined, though the U.S. military aid is to be used only in drug-producing areas.