State Department Noon Briefing
DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 1, 2000, 1:00 P.M.
(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
Q: What can you tell us about the incident in Colombia,
involving or perhaps not involving Ambassador Patterson and Senator
MR. REEKER: In response to a number of press reports and certain
headlines, let me just say that there was not, I repeat not, an
assassination attempt made against Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota
and our United States Ambassador to Colombia, Anne Patterson in the
town of Barrancabermeja, Colombia. The Embassy in Bogota has put out a
press release just a little while ago addressing these press reports
and trying to clarify.
They noted that we are aware that the Colombian police discovered two
explosive devices near a road in the town of Barrancabermeja
yesterday, November 30th. The US Ambassador, Ambassador Patterson, and
Senator Wellstone were traveling to that town on the same date, but we
are aware of no indication, no evidence that these explosive devices
were targeted against the Ambassador or the Senator. They noted from
the Embassy also that such explosive devices are frequently found in
the area of Barrancabermeja, which is an area of extensive activity by
illegally armed groups in Colombia.
So the Ambassador, accompanied by the Senator, traveled to the town
via air. They were not traveling along the road near where these
explosives were found. They are both fine. They returned as planned
yesterday to Bogota, and in fact, Senator Wellstone departed Bogota
for Washington as scheduled this morning. I would also note that the
Senator's office put out a statement a short while ago also noting
that there is no evidence at this point that either the Senator or the
Ambassador were targets, as some press reports indicated.
Q: If I could just follow up. I understand that you have no evidence
that there was an assassination attempt, but you have - but, from the
suspects that are arrested or anything to say that they have committed
this attack, definitely not, you have no evidence that it was not an
MR. REEKER: I'm not even aware of an attack. Again --
Q: Or, I'm sorry, of the land mines. I mean, you have no evidence that
it was not? I mean, you just think that it was not?
MR. REEKER: Well, I guess, sort of constructing a double negative --
exactly. We have no evidence to suggest that anybody was trying to
attack or assassinate anybody.
Q: I understand. Right. You said there was not. So what is your
conviction that there wasn't?
MR. REEKER: Again, the Embassy has been in touch with the Colombian
police and are aware that they found two explosive devices near a
road. I understand it may have been as far as two kilometers from a
road in the Colombian town of Barrancabermeja. It did happen that the
US Ambassador and Senator Wellstone were visiting that town on the
same day that those were discovered, which was yesterday, as the press
reports of today have begun to point out. And they noted that such
explosive devices are frequently found in the area. And they are aware
of no evidence that these devices were targeted against the Senator or
Q: But I guess my question is, but you haven't determined why they
MR. REEKER: No, again, I don't think we have determined why explosive
devices are frequently found in the area, all the time. I don't think
we do an analysis of that except to note that it is an area used
extensively - or an area of extensive activity by illegally armed
groups in Colombia. And we certainly talked about the existence of
such groups in Colombia in the past.
Q: Has the United States asked for a further investigation on this to
the Colombian authorities?
MR. REEKER: I don't think it's a matter of any further investigation.
They've been in touch. Our security office, through the Embassy in
Bogota, has been in touch with the Colombian National Police, based on
these press reports that came out suggesting an "assassination
attempt" and, based on those discussions, the Embassy has put out
their statement. And we are also saying from here that there was not
an assassination attempt made against American officials there.
Q: The initial report said the devices were found along the airport
road. You're saying it was two kilometers from the nearest road?
MR. REEKER: I understood that there was a road - if I even have more
facts here - in or near the town of Barrancabermeja where the Senator
and the Ambassador were visiting. And some reports said that they had
found them as far as two kilometers from the road. I suppose there are
probably a number of roads, and I don't believe there was any
particular, again, connection to the place where they were found,
these devices as they were described, explosive devices, were found
and the Senator and the Ambassador were visiting there, several hours
later during the day.
Q: Do you know whether they were aware of these devices before or
during the time of their visit?
MR. REEKER: I'm not. As I said, the Embassy is very much aware that
the area frequently has devices that - such explosive devices are
frequently found in this area. It's an area of extensive activity by
illegally armed groups, as I noted. So I think the Embassy, in
security arrangements they make, take that into full consideration,
obviously, at all times whenever anybody is traveling to visit there.
Q: Can you give some indication of how close or how far the Senator
and the Ambassador were from the devices?
MR. REEKER: I really can't. I don't believe there was any connection
at all and I don't know what other devices in an area, as they said,
where these devices are frequently found, might be. As I said, the
Embassy and the Senator have both indicated they didn't feel there was
any connection to them, so they obviously weren't making any
comparison of locations of these things at any given time.
Q: I'm slightly confused. You said they flew to the town. Did they fly
to the town instead of driving because these bombs were changed? Or
did they always intend to fly?
MR. REEKER: According to the Embassy statement, they traveled to the
town via air and did not travel along the road near which the
explosive devices were found, nor had they planned to do so. And,
again, you can get a copy. We will be able to give you a copy of the
Embassy statement, which said just that.
Q: On Colombia but another subject? The Ambassador Patterson has said
yesterday that the FARC and the paramilitary groups are working in
Colombia as the big drug cartels used to do. She said they have under
control the whole process of exportation of the drug. She said also
the United States are going to ask for the extradition of the members
of the guerilla and paramilitary groups that are involved in
narco-trafficking. Do you have any comments on that?
MR. REEKER: I don't have anything. I don't believe there is anything
particularly new there at all, and I think Ambassador Pickering
covered virtually all of that subject when he briefed last week.
Q: She was talking about the connection between the FARC and the
MR. REEKER: We put out a statement about that - which date, Chuck? --
a couple of days ago, on the 29th, we put out a statement noting that.
Q: But the statement didn't say anything about this part of the
extradition for the - the petition of extradition --
MR. REEKER: I'm afraid I just don't have anything on that.
Q: Is it the case also that the Intelligence Agency here have evidence
that can prove that the FARC are the new cartel, that is new --
MR. REEKER: Well, I think we have discussed at great length the links
between the FARC and narco-trafficking in Colombia. Ambassador
Pickering - again, I would be happy to get you a transcript of his
remarks from earlier in the week; Monday, I believe it was --
discussed that at great length, based on the recent visit he had to
Colombia. So I don't think there is anything new or surprising in any
of those comments.
Q: Yes, but now they are pointing FARC like a drug cartel; they are
saying that they are working as a cartel --
MR. REEKER: Again, I just don't think I want to read more into
anything. I think we have covered extensively our views on the scourge
of narco-traffickers in Colombia and what that means for our own
security, and certainly for Colombia's, and the connections to that to
the FARC, and I just don't have anything to add there. And I really
don't think there is anything particularly new there.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:15 p.m.)