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Bush to Arrive in Peru Amid Hightened Security - 2002-03-23


President Bush arrives in Peru Saturday amidst hightened security following a bomb blast in the capital that killed nine people. Mr. Bush will meet with Andean leaders to discuss expanding free trade.

More than 20,000 Peruvian police are on their highest state of alert ahead of the president's visit. Four Peruvian Air Force MIG-29s will escort Air Force One on its approach to Lima where air space will be restricted during the president's stay.

Navy frigates are patroling the coastline and sharpshooters will be posted around all buildings where Mr. Bush meets with Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo. The government will allow demonstrations by labor unions and civic organizations, but says it will not tolerate any violent protest.

The extra security precautions follow a bomb blast near the U.S. embassy Wednesday that killed nine people and wounded more than 30. President Toledo has offered a one-million-dollar reward for information leading to the arrest of those responsible.

Peru's Interior Minister says investigators are considering whether Colombian rebels might be behind the blast. The United States says those rebels, known as the FARC, are part of a terrorist organization. President Bush has asked Congress to lift limits on U.S. military aid to Colombia so it can be used to fight the FARC. That assistance is currently restricted to anti-drug efforts.

Colombian President Andres Pastrana last month canceled three years of peace talks with the FARC after they hijacked a civilian jetliner. U.S. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice said the Bush Administration backs President Pastrana's move to send the army in to recapture what had been FARC-controlled areas. "The FARC has demonstrated what it is in the way that it's behaved, in this terrorist way," he said. "The United States has long had it on the terrorist list, so it's not a surprise to us. But the Colombian government has decided that the peace process is going nowhere with the FARC. So the situation has changed on the ground."

That changing situation will be part of the president's discussions with leaders from Peru, Colombia, Bolivia, and Ecuador, the four nations covered by the Andean Trade Preferences Act. Legislation to extend support for that economic alliance is still pending before the U.S. Congress.

Ms. Rice said it is important to continue that support to expand free trade in the Western Hemisphere. "The president will reiterate America's commitment to our Andean neighbors, his determination to work with the Andean leaders to reduce both the supply and demand for drugs, and his strong support of free trade between the United States and Andean countries," she said.

In talks with Peruvian President Toledo, Ms. Rice said Mr. Bush will support the government's ongoing economic and pro-democracy reforms. "The two Presidents will have a bilateral meeting where they will discuss Peru's success in implementing democratic and market reforms, as well as ways to further stability and prosperity in the Andean region," she said.

Mr. Bush will also discuss Peruvian efforts to stop cocaine smuggling to the United States. There will be no decision on resuming a program to shoot-down small planes suspected of carrying narcotics after two Americans were killed last year when their plane was mistakenly fired-on by the Peruvian Air Force.