Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

U.S. Aid Questioned in Colombia Killings

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

U.S. Aid Questioned in Colombia Killings

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON -- Their ammunition spent, 13 Colombian police officers raised their hands and surrendered to guerrillas who had attacked a small mountain town. One by one, they were shot to death.

Just miles away, U.S. Black Hawk helicopters provided to the police for anti-drug missions remained on the ground. They were never called in to help the officers.

The police killings prompted the chairman of the House International Relations Committee, Benjamin Gilman, to write to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, expressing concern that the helicopters hadn't been used because of U.S. restrictions.

Both U.S. and Colombian officials denied that was the case. Colombian National Police Chief Ernesto Gilibert said helicopters hadn't been deployed because they weren't equipped to fly at night.

A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said U.S. policy allows Colombia to use the helicopters "for humanitarian purposes to prevent a loss of life and to provide evacuation."

The United States regularly reviews helicopter flight records to make sure helicopter use complies with U.S. guidelines, the official said. To date, Colombia has consistently met those guidelines.

The issue is sensitive from two sides. On one side is Gilman, who supports the Colombian aid, and wants to see the United States help the Colombian National Police as much as it can.

On the other side are opponents of the aid, skeptical that it can be limited to the drug fight without having the United States get drawn into Colombia's 36-year war with leftist guerrillas.

The July 15 attack in the southwestern Colombia town of Roncesvalles did not appear to be tied to any counternarcotics operation. The officers spent 27 hours fighting off an attack by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, according to police. …

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