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Winning in One Terrorist War

The US campaign to assist the drug-exporting nation of Colombia in ending a threat from thousands of home-grown terrorists has escalated over the past year, with some success so far.

US military forces have not only helped Colombia cut the acreage of coca cultivation by more than a third - reducing the flow of cocaine money to rebels on the left and right - but are also now backing up security for oil pipelines targeted by left-wing rebels.

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And last week, President Álvaro Uribe won a promise from the largest outlawed right-wing militia group, known as AUC, to disarm by the end of 2005.

With these tentative victories, the mood in Colombia after nearly four decades of civil war has changed, much of it due to Mr. Uribe, who's taken a tough stance against the rebels since he took office nearly a year ago.

Government attempts in the 1990s to negotiate peace with leftist rebels known as FARC failed when it became clear the rebels were addicted to drug money and violence as a means to gain power and territory.

Now, with the possible disarming of 13,000 right-wing rebels, Uribe hopes to remove one of the main reasons for FARC's existence. The US has promised more than $3 million to disarm some of the paramilitary fighters.

In addition, Uribe has continued a multipronged government campaign known as Plan Colombia (backed by nearly $2 billion in US aid), to use both economic and military initiatives to end the nation's drug cultivation and insurgencies. And he's proposed constitutional reforms that could help improve Colombia's democracy.

Keeping US support is essential for Colombia to find peace. Yet both Congress and the Bush administration are making demands on Uribe that he finds difficult. Some US lawmakers insist that a few top leaders of AUC be extradited to the US for drug or murder charges. President Bush threatens to reduce military aid if Colombia's Congress doesn't endorse immunity for US soldiers from the new International Criminal Court.

Bringing both peace and justice to Colombia after such a long war won't be easy. Washington must balance the legal issues while also maintaining financial aid.


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