Newsbrief: European Union Envoy Criticizes Colombia Coca Fumigation 1/23/04

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European Union (EU) External Affairs Commissioner Chris Patten criticized the US-backed drug eradication program in Colombia while in Bogota for two days of talks over the EU's role in funding Colombia's future. Patten also echoed criticism of Colombia's human rights record, singling out an "anti-terrorism" law passed last month that gives the military certain judicial powers, and rebuked the leftist FARC guerrillas for their kidnapping of civilians.

The EU has refused to fund Plan Colombia's drug war aspects, instead pledging funds for development programs, including $54 million Patten announced Wednesday. In a meeting of potential aid donor nations in London in July, participants agreed to condition assistance to Colombia on its compliance with United Nations High Commission on Human Rights recommendations. Another donor conference is set for later this year.

In remarks made after meeting with President Alvaro Uribe Wednesday night and reported on by Agence France Presse, Patten called for alternatives to crop fumigation, saying it led to too much collateral damage. There are other means of reducing coca production, he said, adding that fumigation destroys food crops as well as coca plants and damages the environment.

US and Colombian officials have hailed the program as a success, citing a decrease in overall production, but recent reports have cited reseeding in areas that have been sprayed and new crops being sown in formerly virgin areas. Coca production is now also on the increase in Peru and Bolivia, according to US and UN figures.

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