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New Colombian Leader Wants US Help in Rebel Fight - 2002-05-27

In Colombia, one day after his stunning election victory, President-elect Alvaro Uribe met with international reporters to discuss his plan to end the violence that plagues his country.

Mr. Uribe is looking to the United States for more help in defeating Colombia's leftist guerrillas.

In his first news conference since winning the Colombian presidential election, Alvaro Uribe said his main priority is to establish the rule of law throughout the country. He said the murders and kidnappings carried out by the leftist guerrillas and the right-wing paramilitary groups have terrorized the populace and scared away foreign investors.

The Colombian president-elect, who once studied at Harvard University in the United States, said he will continue his nation's close relationship with Washington and seek more U.S. help in the fight against what he described as terrorism.

"Colombia has been a partner in the battle of the United States against terrorism. The violence we are suffering is terrorism. Therefore, we need the reciprocity," he said. "We need the help of the United States in order to preserve our democracy and to preserve our democracy, we can no longer suffer terrorism."

Mr. Uribe said he would likely visit Washington sometime after taking office on August seventh and that he hopes to meet with President Bush as well as State Department officials. He said he does not seek direct U.S. involvement in Colombia, but he would like more material assistance and training.

"We will do what we have to do with our soldiers, with our men and with our women, but we need technological assistance, helicopters, et cetera," he said.

Mr. Uribe said he has already begun to seek a meeting with United Nations representatives to see what role the world body might play in helping to resolve Colombia's 38-year conflict peacefully. He said that, as president, he would seek the help of all friendly nations in fostering a peaceful resolution of the war. He also said that if the conflict is allowed to continue, it could easily spread into neighboring countries and affect all of Latin America.

The 49-year-old former state governor won the presidential election with 53 percent of the vote Sunday. It was the first time a candidate had ever won the presidency without having to go into a second round of voting. Mr. Uribe campaigned on a get-tough approach to the insurgents in his country, where each year at least 3,500 people die as a result of war-related violence. Colombia also ranks as the worst country in the world for kidnappings, and Mr. Uribe's own father was killed in a kidnapping attempt in 1983.

But the man who, in less than three months, will lead Colombia says he wants his nation to be known for more than its violence. After his news conference ended, Mr. Uribe approached the foreign reporters present and thanked them for coming to Colombia in spite of its dangers.

"Welcome to Colombia. I hope you have gotten a good impression of this country and that you transmit good ideas, good news from this country," he said. "Thank you very much."

Alvaro Uribe says he will spend the next few weeks putting together his cabinet and discussing the possibility of international mediation to end the war in his country. He says he is willing to engage in peace talks, possibly under United Nations supervision, but only if the rebels agree to an immediate cease-fire and an end to kidnappings and other attacks against civilians.