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Colombia Seeks U.S. Anti-Drug & Terror Support - 2003-05-01

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe is in Washington seeking U.S. support in the anti-drug and anti-terror fight in his country. Trade is also high on his agenda. He spoke with President Bush Wednesday and met with members of the U.S. Congress Thursday. Chris Simkins reports.

During his four-day visit to Washington, Colombian President Uribe is seeking to initiate talks for a bilateral free-trade agreement. The Bush administration says these agreements should be negotiated through the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas, which negotiators hope to establish by 2005. On Wednesday, President Bush expressed his continued support for the agreement.

“One thing that is for certain is we started down the road on a Free Trade Agreement through the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas which I am actually confident it will boost the capacity of the Colombian economy to grow.”

President Uribe also discussed the progress his country has made in its long-running war against leftist rebels. Mr. Uribe, who took office in August, launched an initiative offering amnesty to those rebels who desert their groups. Since January this year, 450 members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia known as FARC, the largest rebel group have turned themselves in. The Colombian leader said his country is committed to fighting the guerrilla groups, which the United States considers terrorist organizations.

“We are telling them you have the opportunity to follow the ring leaders of the terrorist organizations or you have the opportunity to come to live in our community with the respect of our constitution.”

Recently, the guerrillas have increased the number of kidnappings and attacks in major cities. President Uribe is currently negotiating with rebel groups on the release of 80 hostages, including three Americans, in exchange for jailed guerrillas. The American civilians are Defense Department contractors captured when their surveillance plane crashed in Colombia last February.

For his part, President Bush praised Colombia for being the only South American nation that supported the coalition of nations willing to launch the war against Iraq.