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US: Colombia Rebels Believed 'Misusing' Safe-Haven - 2001-08-23

The Bush administration is expressing concern that leftist rebels in Colombia are "misusing" the territorial safe-haven granted them by President Andres Pastrana. A high-level U.S. delegation will go Bogota next week to meet President Pastrana and other senior officials.

Administration spokesmen are warmly supportive of President Pastrana's overall efforts to end Colombia's long-running insurgency.

But they are none-the-less making clear their misgivings about what is happening inside the Switzerland-sized safe-haven zone the president ceded three years ago to the country's main rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

U.S. concerns about the safe-haven policy have increased since last week when Colombian authorities arrested three men suspected of belonging to the Irish Republican Army, on charges they were training FARC members in urban warfare techniques.

At a briefing here, State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said while President Pastrana had made "unprecedented" efforts to bring peace to the country, the guerrillas operating in their safe zone have not matched his good faith. "The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the so-called FARC, have not made reciprocal efforts to further peace and are misusing the demilitarized zone to abuse prisoners, hold kidnap victims, engage in narcotics-trafficking, and for example reportedly receive training from the Irish Republican Army," he said. "Such activities are not consistent with the peace process, that very process that President Pastrana has worked so hard to advance."

An inter-agency team of senior U.S. officials led by Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman goes to Bogota next week for the first such visit since President Bush took office.

Officials here say they will reiterate U.S. support for Mr. Pastrana's national reconstruction program, Plan Colombia, which the Clinton administration backed with more than a billion dollars in financial support.

But they can also be expected to elaborate on their concerns about the demilitarized zone for the FARC, which the Colombian leader will decide by October whether or not to renew.

The Bush administration, meanwhile, is closely following the case of the three alleged IRA members in Colombia, which could have implications for future U.S. cooperation with the IRA's political wing, Sinn Fein, in Northern Ireland peace efforts.

FARC is listed by the State Department as a terrorist group and spokesman Reeker says any collaboration with it would be of "utmost concern" to the United States.