Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Daily Press Briefing

THURSDAY, MAY 21, 1998

9-11Intelligence Brigade Disbanded / US Visas Revoked for Military Officers FARC Ltr to US re Kidnapped AmCits & Drug Trafficking / Plans to Involve UN in Peace Process

DPB # 63
THURSDAY, MAY 21, 1998, 12:45 P.M.


QUESTION: Jamie, Colombia has decided to disband it's 20th military brigade. I'm wondering what the US official position is on that; and whether the US Government has any evidence that that brigade was linked to human rights violations; and whether you're concerned now that if these people go elsewhere, they may be harder to track down.

MR. RUBIN: We commend the Colombian Government's initiative to restructure and improve it's military both in terms of human rights and in overall capabilities. We note that the decision to disband the 20th intelligence brigade was taken in the context of an overall review of Colombian military structure. We understand this review process is ongoing.

We have noted our human rights concerns with the 20th brigade in our annual human rights report, and repeat our call on the Colombian Government to investigate all reported abuses and prosecute those responsible to the fullest extent of Colombian law.

At the same time, we note that Colombian guerrillas and paramilitaries - the instigator of Colombia's civil conflict - are responsible for the vast majority of reported human rights abuses.

QUESTION: With respect to the revocation of visas of military officers - US visas --

MR. RUBIN: We have some old guidance on that that I can provide to you after the briefing.

QUESTION: This is in reference to an article this morning in The Washington Post, where former Ambassador Aronson implies or suggests that the FARC and ELM have sent letters in the last couple of weeks to the US Government, and they are in a position to negotiate or support a negotiation for peace in Colombia. Is that something that you can give us some information about?

MR. RUBIN: Over the past year, we had several feelers, through third parties, from people purporting to represent the guerrillas. We have used these third party contacts to consistently convey our demand that we have satisfactory resolution of the kidnap cases of US citizens held by those guerrillas.

The US strongly condemns the guerrillas continued practice of kidnapping innocent civilians and demanding ransom. There are currently five American citizens held by Colombian guerrillas - four by the FARC, including the three missionaries missing since 1993. Through the third party intermediaries, the guerrillas have made assertions that they are not involved in drug trafficking, or that they are prepared to disengage from trafficking. We have not seen any evidence of this to date. However, this is an issue for the guerrillas to discuss with the Colombian Government.

The United States stands ready to do whatever it can to encourage and support peace talks. However, peace is ultimately a matter for Colombians to negotiate. We urge the guerrillas to engage with the Colombian Government in a meaningful peace process. This will be a primary objective of the new Colombian Government, which will take office in August.

QUESTION: Follow up on that - the US Government will do whatever it takes - will that involve military?

MR. RUBIN: No, it would not. What we're talking about is trying to facilitate a peace process. I fail to see how one could even imagine I was talking about the military.

QUESTION: It has been suggested by some that one of the ways you could do this is through the United Nations, through some process similar to what was done in El Salvador. Are there any concrete plans -- even if they're on a shelf or in a drawer somewhere - regarding Colombia and a peace process there, and what the US role would be in that kind of plan?

MR. RUBIN: We plan for a lot, but we don't always think it's helpful to talk about it publicly.

QUESTION: Can we stay on the same continent?

(Laughter.) .................

[end of document]