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Last Updated:3/25/02
Excerpt from State Department Daily Briefing, March 22, 2002
Daily Press Briefing
Philip T. Reeker, Deputy Spokesman
Washington, DC
March 22, 2002

QUESTION: The language on Colombia is now available. I'm sure you've seen it.


QUESTION: It's kind of, for us, ordinary mortals, slightly obscure. I mean, I wondered if you could expand, perhaps, on the implications of the change in language, the change in approach to Colombia?

MR. REEKER: I think it reflects, Jonathan, very much what we have been talking about for some time on Colombia. The Secretary has made quite clear that we have decided to seek new and more explicit legal authorities for Department of State and Defense Department assistance to Colombia in support of the Government of Colombia's unified campaign against narcotics trafficking and terrorist activities and other threats to its national security, the threats to democracy in Colombia.

And as you know, we have been very supportive of President Pastrana's government and their efforts to defend their democracy against the terrorist threats that the FARC and other terrorist groups pose, and against the threat to Colombia, to the region, and to us, of narco-trafficking. And I think there has been plenty of evidence and discussion about how the two are very much linked.

So it is obviously no surprise that our supplemental bill that was sent yesterday to the Congress from the White House includes requests for additional funding to Colombia. It provides $35 million in additional funding to Colombia; $25 million of this is focused on strengthening Colombia's anti-kidnapping capabilities in dealing with the multiple terrorist threats there; $4 million is for supporting police posts and development of civilian authorities in areas not previously under government control; and then the additional $6 million is to jump-start the pipeline protection program that we talked about and put $98 million in our Fiscal Year 2003 budget.

But also pertaining to what I said earlier, the supplemental bill, the legislation, would allow broader authority to provide assistance to Colombia in this unified -- I guess what we could call a cross-cutting -- threat posed by groups that use narcotics trafficking to fund terrorist and other activities to threaten security and undermine democracy in Colombia.

QUESTION: To follow up, does it -- do you think this language gives you -- if approved, would give you authority to authorize the use of the helicopters and the US-trained brigades for use against -- directly against terrorists?

MR. REEKER: I guess I would have to look into that specifically, if that were to come up. The idea is to be able to use our assistance in what is clearly, as I said, a cross-cutting threat; that is, the terrorism and the narco-trafficking threats tend to merge in their attempts to undermine Colombian democracy.

It's something I can look into, if that specifically would be part of that and where that would -- obviously this is something we would be working on with the Colombians very closely in terms of their needs and how we can be helpful.

QUESTION: Okay. And the other thing is, since -- the pipeline protection project was originally scheduled to start in 2003, correct? This supplemental request implies therefore that you want to start on that this year?

MR. REEKER: I know that the pipeline protection funding was provided for in the 2003 Fiscal Year budget, which includes a good portion of 2002 as well. So when that specifically was expected to start, I don't know. The purpose in asking for $6 million in the additional funding in the supplemental bill is to sort of jump-start that program and get it started.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) start earlier than you expected?

MR. REEKER: I would have to check into exactly how they want to use the additional money. But that would be how I would interpret jump-start, to get it off to a good jumping start.


QUESTION: I just wanted to try and clarify -- did I understand you to say that $25 million of the $35 million of the Colombian aid would be used to upgrade their anti-kidnapping capabilities?

MR. REEKER: Let me go back to that, just so I can tell you what we have. Yes, 25 is focused on strengthening anti-kidnapping capabilities in terms of training/support for forces to better fight against that. That has been a real problem in Colombia. So part of our training, expertise, equipping -- I don't have details on the program, but it is something that Colombia has asked for to help them -- what we can provide to help them better protect, better train their law enforcement authorities to prevent kidnapping.

QUESTION: So this is US military training?

MR. REEKER: I don't think that was ever suggested. I think we are talking about law enforcement here. The specifics of that I could look into for you, what the program will specifically involve. But I never saw --

QUESTION: It's a lot of money for something that is not very clearly spelled out.

MR. REEKER: Law enforcement training and things that -- there may be more details on it. I am happy to look into that for you. But I think this is something the Government of Colombia has sought, and it is a problem that we have identified as serious and an area where we can help do that.

QUESTION: Actually Betsy raises an interesting -- are these kidnappings by the FARC and ELN and insurgent groups, or are you talking about run-of-the-mill abductions?

MR. REEKER: At least from reading press reporting, and from what I know about much of the kidnapping, it has often been sponsored by the FARC, the ELN. As you know, terrorist groups -- that is one of their ways of trying to raise funds. It is a terrorist act.

QUESTION: So they are the main groups that this aid looks to help the Colombians with?

MR. REEKER: This aid, which of course supplements our current programs and provides the legislative -- the changes or the adjustment in the legislative language, as the Secretary has described, to allow us to support the Colombians in a broader way in the dual threat of terrorism and narcotics trafficking that threatens their democracy and undermines their security.

QUESTION: Right. It just seems to me that this is kind of way of disguising -- trying to disguise anti -- you know, counter-insurgency stuff as -- by saying it's anti-kidnapping because --

MR. REEKER: I don't think anybody has tried to disguise anything, Matt. I think we have been incredibly transparent and forthcoming in exactly how we wanted to approach this. The Secretary has testified about it on the Hill before Congress. We have worked with Congress, who has also been interested in seeing us be able to help Colombia more, and that is what we will continue to do.

QUESTION: Human rights groups have complained about aid to Colombia because of connections between the army and paramilitaries, and the State Department report also noted that this is a problem. Is there anything in the language of this, or at least new aid requests, to make it clear that you are forcing the government to deal with this issue?

MR. REEKER: As we have been very clear, the Secretary has said on any number of occasions that we do not intend to use additional authorities being sought to waive either the Leahy amendment or the Byrd amendment, and we will continue to observe the requirements of the Byrd and Leahy amendments to the Foreign Operations Bill. That of course concerns the limits on US civilian and military personnel in Colombia. We expect to keep within the Byrd amendment limits that specify a maximum of 400 military and 400 civilian personnel at any given moment. So we intend to abide by that.

And the Leahy amendment also says that US assistance cannot be given to military units that contain human rights violators and requires human rights certifications from the Department of State. We also intend to abide by that.

So, as Secretary Powell has said, we will continue to fulfill the requirements, for instance, for Fiscal Year 2002 Foreign Operations, including the human rights certification requirement because the promotion of human rights in Colombia is central to US goals in that country. We will be working closely with the Congress to meet that goal and with the Colombian Government as well.

QUESTION: Have you certified it for this year? For 2002? Because the deadline was a while ago, I guess.

MR. REEKER: The requirements of the Fiscal Year 2002 act, I would have to check exactly what was when. I don't know the dates off the top of my head, but we intend to keep up with that. We haven't changed that language at all.

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