Rumsfeld Visits Colombia to Support War against Rebels
The US Secretary of Defence arrived in Bogota, shortly after Uribe's government signed a controversial deal with paramilitary troops responsible for crimes against humanity
Observers see U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's visit to Bogota that started on Tuesday as a personal victory of the Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, who had repeatedly asked for Washington's help on his fight against left wing insurgency in the country. Actually, the Bush administration, busy on its incursions in Middle East, paid little attention to the longest South American conflict.
In the first top level US visit to Colombia in 2003, Rumsfeld’s support could herald an impending increase in Washington's financial support for Colombia's war against the rebels. Early this year, Washington officially suspended military aid to Colombia alleging human rights violations committed by the national army and their ties to paramilitary groups.
However, ties between Uribe and Bush are strong and aid is expected to reassume soon. Additional support is also under study, which could include facilities to ensure the swifter sharing of US satellite intelligence and assistance in training elite jungle combat battalions.
During the weekend, Colombia's Army said captured over 140 fighters of the Revolutionary Armed Forced of Colombia, or FARC, the country's largest rebel group. Uribe himself experienced a hasty evacuation when FARC guerrillas tried to shoot down his helicopter when it approached to land in a village in northern Colombia.
President Uribe, a technocrat elected a year ago, has repeatedly pledged to crackdown on rebels. He has also asked for a foreign assistance in the conflict "similar to the one in Iraq", to fight local insurgency.
However, Colombia's plans found the diplomatic opposition from many South American countries as Brazil, Venezuela and Argentina, which are afraid the violence spiral could affect them. Relations between Bogota and Caracas have deteriorated, since far-right Colombia's government sources accused Chavez of allowing leftist rebels to hide in Venezuela.
Caracas has angrily denied this claim, but suspicious persists. Gen Richard Myers, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said last week that there was a need to explore claims that Colombian guerrillas were receiving support from neighboring countries.
Colombia is one of the largest recipients of US military aid, as both governments have signed cooperation agreements to fight leftist guerillas and drug trafficking in country's rainforests. To reinstate aid, USA asked Colombia to sign a bilateral agreement to secure immunity to US Army officers.
Colombia, in turn, replied that has already signed in 1962 a similar deal with Washington, but the State Department says it is not enough and Colombia should sign a new one refusing any International Criminal Court jurisdiction in its territory to begun receiving funds again.