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Colombia's President to Visit Washington - 2004-03-20

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe is set to visit Washington next week for talks with President Bush and other senior U.S. officials on extending the Plan Colombia anti-drug initiative by four more years.

The White House says President Bush will welcome Mr. Uribe to the White House on Tuesday. It says the two leaders will review efforts to defeat trans-national narco-terrorist groups in the Americas.

President Uribe also is expected to meet with Secretary of State Colin Powell, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, members of the U.S. Congress and other officials during the four-day visit that begins Monday.

Since 2000, the United States has provided more than two billion dollars in mostly military aid under Plan Colombia. The current aid package is set to expire next year.

Colombian Foreign Minister Carolina Barco says the plan's goal of reducing the cultivation of coca crops by 50 percent by next year remains on track. But, she told the Associated Press that sustained U.S. involvement in Colombia is needed to cement gains made so far. Coca is the raw ingredient in cocaine.

Colombia is mired in a long-running civil war that pits two leftist rebel groups against rightist paramilitaries and government forces. Both the guerrillas and the paramilitaries finance their illegal operations by drug trafficking with the country's powerful cocaine cartels.