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THE WORLD

U.S. to Revive Anti-Drug Flights

Program will resume in Colombia, but not Peru, where missionary plane was downed in 2001.

August 06, 2003|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Colin L. Powell has approved a resumption of drug surveillance flights over Colombia after a two-year suspension, a U.S. official said Tuesday.

The official said the White House was expected to announce the resumption Thursday, when Colombian President Alvaro Uribe observes his first anniversary in office.

Uribe has advocated a strong stand against drug traffickers.

The official said Powell's recommendation was issued Monday night.

The process took far longer than expected, as officials attempted to put safeguards in place to minimize the possibility of an incident like that two years ago when a plane carrying a U.S. missionary and her child was mistakenly shot down.

At the time, surveillance flights were being conducted over Peru and Colombia. They were suspended in April 2001 after a Peruvian fighter jet acting on U.S. intelligence shot down the missionary plane, killing Veronica Bowers and her daughter Charity.

U.S. government and congressional investigations said many factors contributed to the mistake, including a failure to follow established procedures, inadequate Peruvian air traffic control and inadequate foreign language skills of the Peruvians and Americans.

The new safeguards for flights over Colombia include clearer procedures for identifying and communicating with suspect planes and establishing a chain of command for making the decision to fire on a plane. Colombians will make the final decision.

White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan, who is with President Bush in Crawford, Texas, said an interagency process helped develop procedures to enhance safety.

"The president's overriding concern is to support our allies in Colombia to address the threat to their national security posed by illegal drug trafficking while ensuring that procedures are in place to protect innocent life," McClellan said.

Other officials have said no agreement is expected soon to resume flights over Peru, which lacks radar and aircraft needed for the program.

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