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'We Need Your Support', Colombian President Tells Bush - 2002-09-25

President Bush met with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe at the White House Wednesday to discuss efforts to fight international terrorism and cocaine smuggling.

President Bush says he is impressed with the Colombian leader's vision for a peaceful and prosperous country that is fighting terrorists and drug traffickers. "The Colombian people believe him and so do I. And today I want to affirm our country's strong desire to help the Colombian government and the Colombian people prosper and to live in freedom," Mr. Bush said.

Before President Uribe's visit, the Bush Administration indicted three officials from a Colombian right-wing paramilitary group on charges of conspiring to smuggle 17 tons of cocaine into the United States and Europe.

The leader of the United Self-Defense Forces, Carlos Castano says he will step down and defend himself against the charges. In a letter to the U.S. Embassy in Bogota, Mr. Castano said he will voluntarily hand himself over to U.S. authorities and prove that he has never been involved in drug trafficking.

Human rights groups have questioned the Colombian government's joint operations with Mr. Castano's group, which the U.S. State Department considers a terrorist organization. They are cooperating in the fight against leftist rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

President Uribe came to office promising to increase spending on the fight against the FARC and cocaine producers who he says support them.

That effort could put his government into deficit spending, and he told President Bush that he needs help restructuring the country's mounting debt. "We need the support of your country, the support of your government, your personal support for my country to solve problems of violence, economic and social problems," Mr. Uribe said.

President Bush told the Colombian leader that the United States looks forward to working with international institutions to help the country expand its economy and fight drug traffickers.