DATE=7/29/1999 TYPE=BACKGROUND REPORT TITLE=U-S - COLOMBIA DRUG WAR NUMBER=5-43971 BYLINE=BILL RODGERS DATELINE=BOGOTA CONTENT= INTRO: The growing involvement of the United States in Colombia's drug war threatens to spill over into the decades-long conflict between the government and leftist guerrilla groups. As VOA's Bill Rodgers reports from Bogota, the anti-narcotics campaign is increasingly seen as a key element in the country's counter-insurgency policy. TEXT: Colombia is now the third largest recipient of U-S aid after Israel and Egypt, much of it destined for the South American nation's counter-narcotics program. Colombia is the world's largest producer of cocaine, and also of much of the heroin that is now consumed in the United States. Colombian and U-S officials say leftist guerrillas and right-wing paramilitary groups, are involved in the drug trade - earning anywhere between 200 to 600 million dollars a year from the traffickers. They use these funds to buy arms and finance their operations against the government. The 289 million dollars in U-S aid to Colombia this year is intended solely to support counter-drug programs, instead of counterinsurgency efforts. But in practical terms the distinction is fading. Colombia's Armed Forces chief, General Fernando Tapias, says the drug war is a key element in the struggle against rebel groups. ///Tapias Spanish Act/// He said the only way to stop these groups -- and stop the violence in Colombia -- is to attack their source of funding. He said as long the government cannot reduce the flow of cocaine, these groups will not be weakened. For this reason, the Colombian government is seeking increased aid - including military assistance -- from the United States. This would include buying more military helicopters, intercepter planes, and radar equipment. At the same tim,e General Tapias and other top Colombian officials emphasize they do not want or need U-S troop involvement. However, Colombian political analyst Alfredo Rangel says the line between counterinsurgency efforts and counter-narcotics is becoming very blurred - and the United States may find itself more involved militarily. ///Rangel Spanish act/// He said judging by the rhetoric coming from Washington about Colombia's drug problem, it appears the American government is trying to justify a large increase in military aid to the South American nation. But U-S drug policy director Barry McCaffrey denies this. He told reporters during a visit to Bogota this week that U-S troops will not be directly involved in the Colombian conflict. ///McCaffrey act//// It's my own view that at the end of the day it will be Colombian police, prosecutors, judges and soldiers that will prosecute this action. I do not believe the United States will play any role, now or in the future, in this internal struggle. Except we'll provide training equipment, intelligence support, (and) goodwill. ///End act/// There are several proposals being discussed in Washington for helping Colombia. Mr. McCaffrey's office has proposed one of the largest programs - one- billion dollars for a regional anti-drug campaign, with much of the money destined for Colombia. (Signed) NEB/WFR/KL 29-Jul-1999 09:16 AM LOC (29-Jul-1999 1316 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .