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Leahy puts Colombia aid on hold

Senator is disturbed by report of link between army chief and militias.

April 20, 2007|From Reuters

BOGOTA, COLOMBIA — A U.S. senator has frozen $55.2 million in military aid to Colombia while he discusses with the State Department accusations that Colombia's army chief colluded with illegal paramilitary groups.

The move by Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) came as some members of his party push for a tougher line on Colombia, which has received billions of dollars in U.S. aid to fight left-wing rebels and the illicit drug trade.

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe is under scrutiny as he fends off a scandal linking several of his lawmaker allies to the militias, which are accused of drug trafficking and massacres during their war with the left-wing guerrillas.

Leahy is chairman of the subcommittee that oversees aid to Colombia.

Leahy spokesman David Carle said the senator wanted to discuss his concerns, including those stemming from a Times report last month citing CIA documents that say Colombian army commander Gen. Mario Montoya worked with the militias.

Colombia's government has rejected the CIA accusations.

Rights groups have long charged that militia commanders worked with the armed forces to assassinate suspects they believed were linked to the guerrillas.

"The U.S. Congress should maintain a hold on military assistance to Colombia until alleged links between paramilitary groups and state officials are thoroughly investigated," U.S.-based rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, said in a joint statement.

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