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US to Support Colombia Government Against FARC - 2002-02-22

The United States says it will share intelligence information with and expedite the delivery of military spare parts to Colombia following the breakdown of peace efforts between the government of President Andres Pastrana and the left-wing guerrilla movement, FARC.

The Bush administration is barred by congressional restrictions from directly aiding the Colombian government's offensive against the guerrillas. But it says it intends to be as helpful as it can within the parameters of the law, and has decided to speed delivery of spare parts, and to accede to an urgent request from Colombia to share intelligence data on the guerrillas.

Secretary of State Colin Powell telephoned Colombian President Andres Pastrana while enroute back from China with President Bush Friday to stress U.S. support for his decision to break off talks with the guerrillas and send the army into the "safe zone" granted to the FARC in 1998.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the guerrillas failed to respond in good faith to any of Mr. Pastrana's peace overtures. "We understand, we fully support President Pastrana's decision to break off peace talks with the FARC and end the demilitarized zone," he noted. "We have pointed out that he has repeatedly tried to enter into discussions and resolve the issues in Colombia peacefully. Regrettably the FARC has never reciprocated in good faith. In fact they've carried out over 100 terrorist attacks since January 20."

The Bush administration has supported a program begun under former President Bill Clinton to provide aid including helicopters and other military hardware to assist the Colombian government's struggle against drug traffickers, as distinct from its counter-insurgency efforts.

But in its budget for the coming year, the administration is also requesting nearly $100 million in aid to help the Colombian armed forces protect a critical oil pipeline that has been frequently targeted by the insurgents, an initiative that some congressional critics say draws the U.S. closer to involvement in the long-running civil war.

The Washington Post reported Friday that Colombia has asked for aerial surveillance photos of FARC installations and intercepts from guerrilla satellite telephones and other communications.

Spokesman Boucher gave no details on the nature of the intelligence data Colombia might get, and said the issue is still under discussion.