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U.S. to Resume Its Effort to Help Colombia Intercept Drug Flights

October 03, 2002|From Associated Press

BOGOTA, Colombia — Eighteen months after an American missionary plane was accidentally shot down, the United States will resume a campaign to help Colombia track and force down drug flights, officials from both countries said Wednesday.

The program was suspended in April 2001 in Colombia and Peru after a Peruvian warplane mistakenly shot down the missionary flight over the Amazon, killing an American woman and her infant daughter.

Colombian warplanes will intercept drug flights based on intelligence from the United States, Colombian air force commander Gen. Hector Fabio Velasco said Wednesday. He said operations are expected to resume this month.

To prevent more accidental shoot-downs, Colombian ground and air crews are receiving training in Oklahoma City, said U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Galen Jackman.

The U.S. State Department will be the lead agency on the program. Lawmakers recommended that the CIA no longer manage it.

U.S. officials have said illicit drug flights from the Andes to the United States increased after the suspension of the program.

The missionary flight was shot down after a CIA surveillance plane spotted what it considered a suspicious aircraft and called in a Peruvian jet to intercept it. The U.S. crew later realized that the plane was not on a drug flight, but it was unable to dissuade the Peruvians from firing on it.

The U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee concluded that inadequate Peruvian air traffic control, poor communications and inadequate foreign language skills on both the CIA and Peruvian planes contributed to the shoot-down.

U.S. officials have said that in the resumed operations, all personnel involved must be fluent in Spanish.

Jackman said the campaign would resume over Peru at a later date. Peruvian Foreign Minister Allan Wagner said Tuesday that Peru's war on drugs will not succeed without the U.S.-backed interdiction efforts.

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