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Secretary Cohen and President Pastrana, Press Conference in Cartegena, Colombia

Presenters: U.S. Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen and Colombian President Andres Pastrana
November 30, 1998

Secretary Cohen: Mr. President, I just want to once again thank you very much for hosting this Defense Ministerial III. (Italicized text was inaudible in English -- translated from the Spanish) It's very important to the continuation of a process that was initiated in 1995 one of my predecessors, Mr. Bill Perry. I think that this process can help in the evolution of civilian control of the military, greater modernization of the military forces, also great respect for human rights and the promotion of prosperity throughout the region. We applaud what you, sir, are personally doing to promote the peace process. We think that's very important, and what you're doing to try to restructure the military, to modernize it, and to move forward in the future. So we are here to thank you, and also to express our praise for your efforts. And now we'll entertain your questions.

Well, if you have no further questions, thank you very much. (Laughter)

Translator: There are questions

President Pastrana: Very briefly I believe that we agree completely with Secretary Cohen. Clearly we've had a very productive meeting in which we have discussed specific themes of collaboration and participation. Tomorrow, Secretary Cohen and Defense Minister (Lloreda) will sign a bilateral agreement. We are exchanging views, as he just said, on the subject of modernization of the armed forces, a subject to which we are committed and to which the Colombian Army is committed -- which is the subject of human rights and how a group of our officers will participate in courses in the U.S. This will be one of the matters we hope to accomplish. These courses should allow our officers and soldiers to do a better job with respect to defense of human rights. We will also work on everything that has to do with themes of common security interest.

Q: Have you asked Secretary Cohen for any specific aid for the Colombian peace process?

A: (Pastrana): Well I have always believed that it is very important to have support. President Clinton himself asked the guerrillas and the paramilitaries to stop their activities, (saying) that what we want in Colombia, like what Colombians (themselves) want, are demonstrations of peace not of war; that's what we're asking of the guerrilla as is Secretary Cohen. Within this policy, which is also American, he is supporting the (peace) process that we have begun here in Colombia.

Q: Good day, in the summit of defense ministers which is about to begin, is there going to be any special position regarding the situation which our country has experienced, and what kind of assistance will the (Colombian) government ask for from the U.S.?

A: (Pastrana): Well, clearly the position that we are going to assume in the Conference that will begin at 11 AM is hemispheric security and it's in that sense that we will participate. Secondly, we have been working with the Armed Forces, with the United States, especially since we took power on August 7th. As the country knows, a new stage has begun in the relationship between the two countries and clearly we are being treated completely differently than was the case in the previous four years. The peace process has been supported and there is a spirit of cooperation toward our country and that's where we have headed our conversations.

Q: He (Pastrana) has said that the government supports the process of the restructuring of the Colombian armed forces. What is the most important thing you think should be restructured: the policy of defending human rights or purging (the military) of narcotics-related influence? Where does the United States place the most emphasis in the matter of restructuring ?

A: (Cohen): Well, the need to restructure the forces has to do with professionalizing the military and making it a much more professional armed force. We believe that we have the capability through our various institutions to cooperate on an educational level, to be as helpful as we can in the area of counter-narcotics. We are very committed to working with the Colombian Government and military by trying to help the Colombian military structure itself in a way that it can deal with the forces of narco-trafficking and narco-terrorism and to promote greater stability and peace in the region. We think that we have a major contribution we can make in that regard.

Q: Good day. A question for Mr. Cohen. What do you think of the peace process which the Colombian Government has undertaken. How much do you think society should yield to the guerrillas in order to obtain peace ?

A: (Cohen): Well, we strongly support President Pastrana's effort to promote peace in the region. How much should be yielded is not a matter for me to pass judgement on. You have a very highly popular and highly capable President to make those kinds of determinations in terms of what level of negotiations should be undertaken, what should be given, what should be accepted.

Q: Mr. Cohen, Mr. President, I was wondering if you could tell us if you discussed specific ways to expand American cooperation both in terms of counter-narcotics and counter-insurgency?

A: (Cohen): We did have brief discussions concerning ways in which the United States military could in fact help in counter-narcotics. General Wilhelm, who is the Commander-in-Chief of SOUTHCOM, is able to provide for some training, perhaps exercises, and for the sharing of information that would be helpful as far as drug trafficking is concerned. Our military background and expertise could be shared with the Colombian forces to deal with this particular and very serious problem. We had a brief discussion on that subject. General Wilhelm has met with his counterparts and will continue to meet to discuss ways of adding a more definitive background to that dialogue.

Secretary Cohen and President Pastrana: Thank you.

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