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Powell Heads to Colombia for Talks on Aid, Narcotics Trafficking


Secretary of State Colin Powell is enroute to Colombia for talks spanning two days with President Alvaro Uribe and other senior officials in Bogota.

Mr. Powell will spend about 24 hours in Colombia on a trip that was originally scheduled for September of last year but had to be postponed because of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.

In a pre-departure interview with the Colombian newspaper El Tiempo, Mr. Powell said he sees the visit as a "message of solidarity" for President Uribe in his efforts to fight narco-trafficking and what he termed "terrorist elements" trying to deny the Colombian people's dream for democracy and a safe society.

He also said he is making the trip for an assessment of conditions in the troubled country so as to be better able to defend the aid requests the Bush administration will be making for Colombia early next year.

The United States has provided that country with more than $1 billion in aid since 2000. The aid had been restricted to counter-narcotics programs, but the Bush administration won congressional authorization this year for U.S. funds to also support counter-insurgency efforts by the Bogota government.

Colombia's two main leftist insurgent groups, FARC and the ELN, are on the State Department's list of foreign terrorist organizations as is the rightist paramilitary group, the AUC, which Sunday announced it would respect a ceasefire and enter peace talks with the government.

In his El Tiempo interview, Secretary Powell welcomed the ceasefire but said it was not nearly enough to remove the AUC from the U.S. terrorism list.

He also said the Bush administration will continue to press for the extradition of AUC leader Carlos Castano, who is under indictment in the United States for cocaine trafficking.

After talks Wednesday with President Uribe and other government officials, Mr. Powell is to tour counter-narcotics facilities and meet with local human rights groups.

Colombia is the fourth Latin American country Mr. Powell has visited since taking office, after Mexico, Peru and El Salvador.

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