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Human Rights Groups Denounce Tougher Anti-Rebel Measures in Colombia

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe Velez on Wednesday defended his decision to expand military powers in dealing with his country's warring factions. Human rights groups argue the new measures will encroach on civil liberties, but will do little to increase security.

The government announced the decrees Tuesday night under a state-of-emergency clause. They mark the most severe measures to date in the president's campaign to restore law and order to the war-torn countryside.

The decrees allow the military to impose tight travel restrictions, and to hamper access to conflict zones by foreigners. They also give the police a free hand to arrest suspects without a warrant, and to tap phones with just a verbal authorization from a judge.

Many Colombians applauded the temporary measures, saying they would help curtail abuses by the country's largest rebel army, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. President Uribe took office a month ago on promises to wipe out rebel kidnappings and extortion.

But human rights advocates were more cautious. The military still hasn't severed ties with right-wing paramilitary death squads, they argue, and can't be trusted with new powers.

Speaking to reporters, President Uribe welcomed these objections as part of the democratic process.

"The measures aren't meant to silence controversy," he said, "but to face up to terrorism."

The president made his remarks just before boarding a plane for New York, where he will attend a United Nations general assembly, and push for further international aid for Colombia's Armed Forces.