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News Briefs

Colombian President Asks Congress for $1.3 Billion in Anti-Drug Aid


President Clinton and Colombian President Andres Pastrana Tuesday began a joint push for congressional approval of $1.3 billion in aid for the beleaguered South American nation, appealing for bipartisan support and early passage of the bulk of the money.

As Pastrana met with congressional leaders, Clinton told reporters that the U.S. goal is to help Colombians “gain some measure of control over their country again.” The effort, he said, will be a “test run for the kind of challenges that my successors ... will face” in the future, when drug traffickers, organized-crime groups and political terrorists may work together.

“I would be surprised if we don’t have large numbers of Republicans and Democrats supporting this,” Clinton said. “And I think we’re going into this with our eyes wide open.”

While Colombia tries to stem a flood of cocaine and heroin exports that supply 80 percent of the U.S. market, its government also is battling two leftist guerrilla armies and a right-wing paramilitary force -- all of which derive income from taxing the drug trade. There is bipartisan agreement on the urgent need to address the narcotics trafficking, but congressional opinion is divided on how deeply and directly this country should become involved.

Human Rights Groups, Belgium Seek to Block Pinochet Release


Six human rights organizations and the government of Belgium will go to court here Wednesday in a long-shot effort to block the expected release of former Chilean president Augusto Pinochet. The groups decided to bring a legal action now because they feared they would not be able to reach a judge fast enough to stop Pinochet from returning to Chile once an order to free him is issued.

Home Secretary Jack Straw said two weeks ago that he is inclined to let Pinochet go home to Chile without facing a trial on charges of torture and conspiracy brought by a magistrate in Spain. Acting on reports from a medical examination, Straw said the 84-year-old former general is too sick to stand trial.

The human rights groups have challenged that conclusion and demanded a hearing into Pinochet’s mental and physical condition. This week, they petitioned the High Court -- despite the name, it’s the basic trial court in the British system -- for an order preventing Pinochet’s departure until a hearing can be held. A hearing was scheduled for Wednesday morning.

Belgium joined the case because a Belgian prosecutor has indicted Pinochet for alleged human rights abuses during the 17 years he ruled Chile. Belgium contends that, if Pinochet goes home to Chile, its prosecutors will never get him into a Belgian court.

The key problem for the anti-Pinochet side is that British extradition law gives the home secretary broad discretion in extradition cases. There is no statute dictating how the home secretary should handle medical questions in an extradition case.