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Bush welcomes Colombian hardliner

President Alvaro Uribe met his US counterpart, George W. Bush, for the third timein two years as head of State of the South American nation.
The White House expressed support to Uribe’s hard line against insurgency.
 
Colombia’s president Uribe, who once openly asked Washington for a US military intervention in his country “as the one in Iraq”, visited George W. Bush for the third time in two years. According to official sources, both leaders discussed the need for intensifying the war against what they called “narco-terrorism” (i.e. rebel armed groups) in the South American country.

"I have found in President Bush a huge level of understanding that we cannot leave this fight half way," Uribe said after the session between the two leaders. They also discuss a way to speed up a free trade agreement between both nations, something that is not welcomed in another countries of the region. White House spokesman Scott McClellan confirmed the information as said after the meeting that Bush and Uribe shared commitment to expanding trade with upcoming talks.

Uribe’s hard line against leftist rebels -very much criticized by human rights groups- has been blessed by Washington. During the meeting, Bush commended Uribe for his efforts “in standing against terrorism and combating drug trafficking”, as Colombia was the only country in South America to join Bush's coalition in Iraq.

"Our main target now is not to focus on how to diminish terrorist activities but how to eliminate terrorism for a peace of mind of Colombian people," said Uribe, who is committed "to finish with that plague." The Bush administration talks wonders about Uribe’s work, as reads an internal report released during Uribe’s visit, which shows a 21 percent in coca cultivation in Colombia for 2003.

Despite human rights reports on the contrary, the US State Department is requesting the flexibility to use up to 800 U.S. military personnel and 600 U.S. citizen civilian contractors in support of Plan Colombia, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Monday. Such a change - doubling the current limits - would require legislation.

According to official reports, the United States has provided more than $2.5 billion in training, plus military hardware such as helicopters and intelligence equipment, since 2000 under the so-called Plan Colombia. Colombia is the third-largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid.

Uribe’s hard line against leftist rebels does not match with the “peace-agreements” that his government sealed with paramilitary right-wing groups. These paratroopers trained by local landlords are also playing a role in Colombia’s civil war, a 40-year conflict which leaves around 3,500 people killed in the fighting every year.

Hernan Etchaleco

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