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Colombian leader claims drug flow to be halved by 2005

Gustavo Bell Lemus
Colombian Vice President Gustavo Bell Lemus  

In this story:

U.S. aid includes money to curb insurgency

Drug production up

RELATED STORIES, SITES icon



March 6, 2000
Web posted at: 7:12 p.m. EST (0012 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Colombian Vice President Gustavo Bell Lemus says illegal drug production in his country will be halved in five years with U.S. aid and by alternative programs to discourage cocaine production.

"We are planning our program in order that in five years we can cut the production of the cocaine crop in half," he told CNN on Monday.

Lemus is in Washington to confer with senior U.S. officials on a U.S. package for Colombia to stem escalating drug production in that country.

U.S. aid includes money to curb insurgency

President Bill Clinton's $1.6 billion plan to help Colombia in its narcotics-eradication program is seen as an intensified effort in the Colombian drug war.

The plan concerns more than just eradicating coca plants and giving farmers incentives to grow other crops. It also involves dealing with a well-organized and entrenched insurgency -- financed by the drug trade -- that has fought the Colombian government for about 35 years.

The Colombian government's conflict with Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas in central and eastern Colombia has become increasingly brutal over the past year. FARC has denied any involvement in the illegal drug production.

If that is so, Lemus said, FARC does not need to worry about the government using the aid money to step up its war against FARC militants.

FARC
FARC has denied any involvement in illegal drug production  

"The guerrilla leaders have said repeatedly that they don't have any link with the cocaine business," he said. "If that is true, they don't have to fear that this money will be used against (them)."

Lemus said that Colombia's political climate, for the first time in three decades, is ripe for holding talks with the insurgents.

"Guerrilla (leaders) can trust the government and we can work together in order to achieve the peace settlement, for the first time," he said.

"We have a timetable in order to achieve peace with the guerrillas."

Drug production up

An increase in cocaine production is worrying senior U.S. officials working with the Colombians to fight illegal drugs.

Gen. Barry McCaffrey, White House drug control chief, disclosed at a Senate hearing in February that 80 percent of illegal drugs in the United States come from or pass through Colombia.

Opium poppy cultivation rose by 23 percent in Colombia last year, he added. "If left unchecked, the rapid expansion of drug production in Colombia threatens to significantly increase the global supply of cocaine and heroin," he said.

Reuters contributed to this report.



RELATED STORIES:
U.S. official says anti-drug plan for Colombia will take time to show results
February 22, 2000
Colombia drug production hits 'emergency' levels, U.S. says
February 15, 2000
Colombians fear new wave of drug terrorism after blast
November 11, 1999
Colombian drug kingpins arrested on U.S. warrants
October 13, 1999
Colombia welcomes U.S. help with drugs
July 27, 1999

RELATED SITES:
Colombia Political Organization (in Spanish)
Presidencia De La Republica (in Spanish)

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