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Helping Colombia Crack Down

Alvaro Uribe, the hard-line favorite to win the Colombian presidential election--perhaps even in the first round on May 26--wants to up the ante in the war against Marxist guerrillas in his South American nation. And the Bush Administration is likely to give him a hand. The White House plans to boost the $380 million aid budget for Colombia in fiscal 2002 to over $500 million in 2003. That doesn't include an additional $35 million being requested for the current year.

The money would be used to fight Colombia's entrenched drug industry. But the Bush team also wants to give Bogot? flexibility to shift funds from the war against drugs to combat guerrillas who control Colombia's drug-growing zones and who have waged a battle against the government for 38 years. That would mesh with Uribe's plan to double the size of the police force in a bid to end the insurgency. Uribe, 49, vows to take a much tougher line on the guerrillas and on drugs than outgoing President Andr?s Pastrana, who tried in vain to negotiate peace with the largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. EDITED BY Edited by Rose Brady

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