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House Approves $12.7 Billion Bill to Fund Colombian Army

By Eric Pianin

The House on Thursday approved a $12.7 billion emergency spending bill that includes funds for a Clinton administration initiative to train and equip Colombia’s army in the war against Latin-American drug traffickers.

The spending package includes funds to cover military involvement in Kosovo, hurricane disaster relief, a big boost in routine military operations and scores of other projects and programs.

Despite warning by critics that the government was being drawn into an open-ended commitment to the Colombian government, House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and other proponents said the administration’s initiative is essential to reducing the flow of illegal drugs into this country.

The final vote was 263-146, with 143 Republicans, 119 Democrats and one independent supporting the measure.

The House averted a showdown with President Clinton by rejecting an amendment that would have required him to withdraw U.S. peacekeepers from Kosovo unless European countries deliver more of the aid they have promised for the Yugoslav province.

By a 219-200 vote, lawmakers rejected a bipartisan proposal to use the threat of withdrawal to pressure the Europeans to deliver millions of dollars more for economic, humanitarian and policing assistance. Clinton would have had to begin withdrawing troops in June under the proposal offered by Budget Committee Chairman John R. Kasich, R-Ohio.

Under the overall measure, Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru will share in $1.3 billion of anti-drug funding, with Colombia getting the majority of funds -- including about $388 million to purchase 28 Blackhawk helicopters for the Colombian Army.

The assistance is aimed at helping the Colombian government gain control of drug producing regions in the south, increase drug interdiction efforts and beef up the Colombian national police.