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US Releases Aid to Colombian Military

The Bush administration certified Monday that the Colombian military is complying with Congressionally-imposed human rights requirements. The decision releases nearly $42 million in U.S. aid to the country's armed forces.

Officials here say the certification does not mean the United States is entirely satisfied with the record of the Colombian military or the broader human rights situation. But they do say the armed forces are making enough progress on the issue to warrant the release of remaining U.S. aid money for the fiscal year.

Congress approved $104 million in military aid to Colombia for 2002 but made its delivery dependent on the Colombian military suspending members who commit human rights abuses, cooperating with civilian authorities in prosecuting violators, and severing ties with right-wing paramilitaries.

The Bush administration released 60 percent of the aid money in May after certifying progress by the military on the three criteria.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Deputy Secretary Richard Armitage made the determination to free the rest of the money last week after reviewing new reports on rights conditions from U.S. diplomats and non-governmental organizations.

At a briefing in Washington, he said enough progress has been made to certify, but said U.S. officials recognize that "much more" needs to be done to improve the rights performance of Colombia forces, including ending military and paramilitary collaboration.

"We would note that arrests, combat operations and intelligence activities by the Colombian armed forces against paramilitaries have increased in 2002," Mr. Boucher said. "The newly elected president, Uribe, and defense minister have stated repeatedly that they won't tolerate any kind of cooperation in that regard. So, for example, those are areas, I think in, really, in all of these areas, cooperation with civilian prosecutors, severing the links, they've taken some steps in the right direction, but there is more that they can do."

Mr. Boucher said he thinks President Alvaro Uribe, who took office a month ago, shares administration concerns on human rights issues and is committed to working with the United States on "concrete measures to achieve results."

The United States began providing military training and hardware to Colombia late in the Clinton administration, though the Bush White House has broadened a program previously limited to anti-drug operations to support the Bogota government's fight against leftist insurgents and the paramilitaries.

Several human rights groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have questioned the Colombian military's commitment to fighting rights abuses, and have criticized the administration's release of aid.

A senior State Department official who spoke to reporters on the latest certification said 16 members of the Colombian armed forces including six officers have been suspended since May.

He also said the United States expects the suspension soon of a Colombian general whose unit was said to have been near, but did not intervene, in two massacres of civilians by paramilitaries last year that left nearly 50 people dead.

The official said 160 members of paramilitary groups have been killed in clashes with the regular armed forces so far this year and nearly 500 have been arrested.

Colombia's two largest insurgent groups, the FARC and ELN are listed on the State Department's list of terrorist organizations, as is the main paramilitary organization, the AUC.