By Alfa · Sep 11, 2004 ·
  1. Alfa

    BOGOTA, Colombia - Insisting that the U.S.-backed campaign to wipe out
    Colombia's drug crops is producing results, the commander of
    Colombia's armed forces said Friday that cocaine-trafficking rebels
    are planning for the day when the drug crops are gone altogether.

    The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC, aim to
    sink their millions of dollars in drug profits into legitimate
    enterprises, in order to keep their money working for them once the
    cocaine heyday is over, Gen. Carlos Alberto Ospina said in an
    interview with The Associated Press.

    "In conversations among members of the FARC, they have begun
    contemplating the possibility that drug trafficking will end, though
    not this year or next year," Ospina said. "They have talked about
    investing in other businesses, institutions and companies through
    front organizations."

    Ospina would not divulge where his information on rebel contingency
    plans came from. However, a number of rebel deserters have been
    supplying Colombian authorities with FARC plans, possibly including
    money-making schemes.

    The report comes as authorities in Washington and Bogota are waiting
    for concrete results from their costly effort to wipe out the drug
    crops that fuel this South American nation's guerrilla war, now in its
    40th year.

    Since 2001, aerial spraying has reduced coca crops by 33 percent, to
    280,000 acres last year, according to official reports. White House
    drug czar John Walters recently said cocaine prices on U.S. streets
    remain unchanged, a sign that cocaine supplies remain stable. He
    contended traffickers have stored tons of cocaine and draw upon this
    stock to keep prices stable.

    Ospina, clad in camouflage fatigues, appeared relaxed during the
    hourlong interview at the AP office in Bogota. He was accompanied by
    Gen. Martin Orlando Carreno, the head of the Colombian Army who is
    also a veteran field commander, and by their bodyguards.

    The two commanders have been leading a nationwide offensive, dubbed
    "Plan Patriot," that aims to push the rebels to the farthest corners
    of this Andean nation and force them to enter peace talks.

    "The FARC are being hit hard, but they are not defeated," Carreno
    said. "They still have a very big economic infrastructure."

    Ospina, meanwhile, said continued U.S. aid was important in helping
    Colombia defeat the FARC and a smaller rebel group, and that he
    doubted the aid will be jeopardized by the arrests of three Colombi
    soldiers, including a second lieutenant, for the killings of three
    union leaders.

    The Colombian attorney general's office this week charged the soldiers
    with homicide in the Aug. 5 killings of the union officials in
    northeast Colombia's Arauca state.

    Military commanders initially said the three union leaders were linked
    to the rebels and were killed in a gun battle. Deputy Attorney General
    Alberto Santana disputed that account Tuesday, saying "there was no

    Ospina said the three soldiers are being detained at a military base
    in the northern city of Bucaramanga, and that Washington can be
    confident that the Colombian justice system will take its course.

    At stake for Colombia is about $32 million, or 12 percent of U.S. aid
    to Colombia's armed forces for 2005. Each year, the U.S. State
    Department releases this money only after certifying the government
    has met human rights criteria.

    U.S. authorities have not yet made any formal pronouncements about the
    killings of the union leaders.

    Ospina said he had reports the union officials were indeed killed in a
    gunbattle, but added that the case must now be thoroughly investigated
    to see if the soldiers are guilty.

    "If they're found responsible, they will be punished," the armed
    forces chief said.

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