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U.S.-Latin American Aerial Drug Interdiction Program Is Resurrected

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

BOGOTA, Colombia, Aug. 20, 2003 – A U.S.-Latin American aerial drug interdiction program that had been conducted over the skies of countries like Colombia has been reinstated, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld announced here Aug. 19.

Rumsfeld, accompanied by Colombian Minister of Defense Marta Lucia Ramirez de Rincon, said President Bush had reauthorized the program. It had been suspended for two years after a plane carrying an American missionary was shot down in Peru.

Air interdiction "is a regional issue" that affects all of Latin America, Rumsfeld pointed out, involving efforts to eradicate the sale and distribution of "drugs, as well as weapons."

Rumsfeld also met with numerous senior Colombian officials, including Ramirez de Rincon, President Alvaro Uribe and Gen. Jorge Enrique Mora Rangel, commander of Colombia's armed forces.

The U.S. defense secretary said he was impressed with the Colombian government's "conviction, passion and determination" in fighting narcoterrorism over the past year since Uribe took office Aug. 7, 2002.

Rumsfeld drew a parallel between Colombia's struggle against the narcoterrorists who are funding the insurgent FARC terror group and the broader war on world terrorism.

"It is a global war" that affects myriad nations, including Colombia, the secretary said, noting the United States is "proud to be partners with Colombia in addressing the global war on terrorism."

The United States, Rumsfeld said, is committed to assist nations such as Colombia in combating terrorism. He pointed out that America and its Latin American neighbors share a common interest to keep the Western Hemisphere free from the specters of terrorism and drug and weapons trafficking.

He also praised the strategy the Colombian government is employing against terrorists inside its borders, adding that "good progress" is being made.

The Colombian defense minister lauded Rumsfeld for his leadership in the global war on terror, noting that her government is convinced of ultimate victory over the terrorists.

"We're going down the right path," Ramirez de Rincon emphasized.

Both Rumsfeld and Ramirez de Rincon expressed their condolences for the victims of the Aug. 19 truck bombing of a U.N. headquarters building in Baghdad. The blast killed at least 20 people, including Brazilian Sergio Vieira de Mello, the top U.N. envoy in Iraq, while wounding more than 100.

The Baghdad bombing, Rumsfeld said, was definitely an act of terrorism against the Iraqi people. In fact, half of the persons killed in the blast were Iraqi U.N. employees, according to news reports.

However, the U.S. and its coalition allies "will not be dissuaded nor deterred," Rumsfeld vowed, in assisting the Iraqi people in establishing a representative government of their own choosing to replace the corrupt, despotic regime of deposed dictator Saddam Hussein.

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