|U.S. certifies Colombia on rights|
After a long delay, the State Department decided to certify Colombia on human rights, allowing the country to obtain about $70 million in aid. The move drew complaints from rights activists.
BY PABLO BACHELET
WASHINGTON - The State Department has issued a long-delayed human-rights certification for Colombia, freeing about $70 million in aid despite complaints that its government is soft on security forces accused of abuses, human-rights activists said Tuesday.
The department was expected to issue a formal statement today, one day before President Bush is to meet with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe -- a top U.S. ally in the war on drugs -- at his Texas ranch.
As a condition of U.S. aid, the State Department must certify every six months that Colombia's government is investigating and prosecuting security force members alleged to have committed human-rights abuses. The last certification was due at the end of last year but was not issued until now because of U.S. concerns about recent charges of abuses.
Plan Colombia, a massive U.S.-funded antidrug program launched in 2000, has helped Colombia's police and armed forces get training and equipment to fight drug traffickers, guerrillas and paramilitaries.
But for the first time since the plan's money began flowing, the State Department late last year delayed the rights certification because of concerns that Uribe's government had not moved strongly enough in some cases of alleged abuses.
Uribe was elected in 2002 on a promise to return security to a country almost torn apart by leftist guerrillas and right-wing paramilitaries. Security forces have long been accused of cooperating with the paramilitaries, which regularly execute suspected guerrilla sympathizers.
Eric Olson, Americas director for Amnesty International, said U.S. officials did not cite specific instances of progress at a briefing Tuesday on recertification, noting only a Bogot? ``strong commitment to do more.''
''This decision is a major blow to the promotion of human rights in Colombia and is based on only the narrowest reading of the law and the thinnest of evidence,'' said Dr. William F. Schulz, executive director of Amnesty International USA.
Lisa Haugaard, executive director for the Latin America Working Group, a Washington-based advocacy group usually critical of U.S. policies, said the U.S. government was sending a ''very weak message'' to Colombia.
She said the certification delay had led to progress on a few high-profile cases monitored by the U.S. embassy, but that other cases were ``moving with agonizing slowness.''
Last month, Colombia charged three soldiers and an informant in the 2003 deaths of three labor union leaders in the province of Arauca.
Prosecutors also have ordered the arrest of six soldiers in the killing of a family last year in a rebel stronghold.
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