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Colombia Dismisses Arms Race with Venezuela

The Colombian defense minister, on an official visit to London, says his country will not be drawn into an arms race with neighboring Venezuela.

Colombia Defense Minister Jorge Uribe says the weaponry his country requires will be used only to fight its internal conflicts with drug traffickers, leftist guerrillas, and rightwing paramilitary groups.

"Colombia is a country that has never had territorial ambitions," he said. "We are centered and focused on the local, internal problem. Colombia does not consider it a possibility of an international confrontation with any of its neighbors. What we are facing is just a fight against crime, drugs and terrorism. And that is where we will concentrate."

Earlier this week Venezuela signed a deal with Brazil to purchase several Super Tucano light attack aircraft. Venezuela also is acquiring 100,000 Kalashnikov rifles from Russia, a deal that has raised alarm in Washington that the weapons could fall into the hands of Colombian guerrillas.

Defense Minister Uribe gave his views at a London conference of businessmen and diplomats with interest in Colombia. He spoke a day after his boss, President Alvaro Uribe, met Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez to patch up relations that had been inflamed by the capture of a Colombian guerrilla leader in Caracas.

On other issues, the defense minister said there needs to be a realization in drug-consuming countries that the profits the traffickers net is used to fuel the violence that has killed tens of thousands of people in Colombia, the world's biggest cocaine producer.

"There is an invisible thread that unites the man or woman who sniffs cocaine in Hamburg, Tokyo, New York, whatever, with the blood that is being spilled today in Colombia, tomorrow somewhere else," he said.

Regarding Colombia's political scene, Defense Minister Uribe predicts that either the Constitutional Court or a voter referendum will approve an amendment to allow President Uribe to seek re-election next year.

"The expectation of most people is that re-election will be approved," he said. "I think its possible and quite probable that there will be re-election, but that is not for sure. What will happen then? I think President Uribe will look for re-election if it is allowed. And if he does I am sure he will win."

While in London, Defense Minister Uribe also was meeting with British Foreign Office Minister Bill Rammell on ways Britain could assist Colombia in dealing with the armed conflict, drug trafficking, and human-rights violations.