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France and UK to Increase Involvement in Colombia's Conflict

As Chirac's government sends warplanes to rescue French citizens from the Amazonia, Tony Blair pours secret aid to fight rebels, according to the British media

According to official sources in Colombia and Brazil, France recently ordered a secret Amazon mission to rescue the dual French-Colombian citizen and former presidential candidate, Ingrid Betancourt, held hostage by rebel forces. At the same time, the English daily The Guardian reported that the British Government delivers equipment and advice to its Colombian counterpart to fight insurgency.


Despite continuing human rights abuses in the South American country, both European governments are engaging in a conflict, in which Washington still has a role to play. In fact, ghosts of a US military invasion are still alive, as Uribe's hard policy toward the guerillas and understanding with far right paramilitary groups, includes an international approach that claims for foreign intervention.


France recently took a false step when tried to assist Betancourt and landed a Hercules military transport plane in the Brazilian city of Manaus after the family of the French-Colombian politician heard she might be freed near there. The move outraged Brazilian authorities who ordered the Hercules to immediately leave its territory, as Colombia called on France to explain itself.


The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, which grabbed Betancourt at a roadblock 17 months ago as she campaigned for Colombia's presidency, said they had never planned to hand her over to a French "humanitarian mission" in the Brazilian Amazon. It seems like Chirac's government became trapped by the enthusiasm of Betancourt's relatives in France, who claim for an humanitarian deal with the rebel groups to release her.


On June, a failed rescue military operation to free hostages headed by Colmbia's army ended in tragedy when the rebels noted the operation was underway. They were told that it would be an exchange of prisoners, but regular forces launched an attack on them. The failed operation left 13 killed, including all the 10 prisoners and Betancourt relatives made President Uribe responsible for the massacre.


As for the United Kingdom, The Guardian recently posted an article, in which denounces that Blair's government is "stepping up military assistance to Colombia as the war on drug trafficking becomes increasingly entangled in the effort to defeat leftwing guerrillas and drive them back to the negotiating table." According to the English daily, the Foreign Office admitted participation: "We provide some military aid but we don't talk about the details," a Foreign Office spokeswoman said. The investigations say that key areas of UK support are:


· SAS training of the narcotics police, the Fuerza Jungla.

· Military advice to the army's new counter-guerrilla mountain units.

· A surge in the supply of military hardware and intelligence equipment.

· Assistance in setting up an intelligence centre and a joint intelligence committee.


The US Defense Department, in turn, openly gives details of the $2bn aid given under Plan Colombia to fight what the administration calls "narco-terrorists".


In Latin America, most of the countries take a blind eye on the question. Brazil and Venezuela, Colombia's main bordering countries do not want to become engaged in the conflict and stand against any foreign intervention in neighbor's internal affairs. Argentina holds a similar position, as recently appointed a human rights supporter former Army chief, as ambassador to Bogota. No matter the case, Colombia is the most sensitive issue in today's South America.

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