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An Opposing View: UN Report Is Likely to Praise Colombia

At the same time the US State Department is on the verge of condemning Colombia for the second year in a row for not working hard enough to combat drug traffickers, experts at the United Nations are about to praise Colombia's efforts.

The annual report International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), due to be released March 4, is expected to give rave reviews to initiatives by President Ernesto Samper Pizano to fight drugs, among them the enacting of a law to seize illicit assets and successful raids against drug kingpins.

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Diplomatic sources at the UN, however, do not expect the report to change the Clinton administration's policy toward Colombia. They expect another "decertification" of Colombia by the US this Thursday.

The newly appointed Colombian ambassador to the US, Juan Carlos Esguerra, warned last week in New York that decertification may be "inevitable," despite a diplomatic and media blitz by Colombia that has included hiring some large US public relations firms to try to influence American public opinion.

UN sources have indicated that a decision to not release the INCB report until March 4, after the expected announcement from the State Department, may have been taken under US pressure.

They say the purpose of delaying publication of the UN document was probably to avoid an embarrassing situation similar to last year, when UN experts praised Colombia while Washington criticized it, almost at the same time.

A spokesman at the US mission to the UN refused to comment on the rumor.

The Vienna-based INCB consists of 13 experts appointed by the UN's Economic and Social Council. They serve in a personal capacity and not as government representatives.

Their conclusions are considered impartial and based on materials from the World Health Organization, the international police organization Interpol, and numerous other agencies and private organizations around the world.

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Sources at the UN have indicated that this year, although it will note an increase in the production of opiates and cocaine in Colombia, the INCB report will also commend the drug-eradication efforts and seizures made by Mr. Samper's government as steps in the right direction.

Washington, the sources added, will continue to emphasize Samper's alleged links to the Cali drug cartel during the president's 1992 electoral campaign. Samper was cleared of the charges last year by Colombia's Congress.

Since 52 percent of the total cocaine seized in South America is of Colombian origin, the US will probably continue to put pressure on Bogot to force Samper out of office.

Few Colombians believe he will resign or shorten his term, the UN sources say.

Colombia's foreign minister, Maria Emma Mejia, toured Europe in late January to gather support from the European Union, which is known to have discreetly advised the United States against a new decertification.

A UN source commented that if the INCB report had come out this week, "It would have made very little difference and would probably not have changed Washington's viewpoints."

A Latin American diplomat noted that letting the UN praise Colombia ahead of the State Department's report would "certainly have affected the State Department's credibility as to the objectivity of its policies in Latin America."

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