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U.S. Clears Release of Military Aid to Colombia

The State Department on Monday cleared the way for giving $41.6 million in arms and equipment to Colombia, certifying that the country's military has met human rights requirements in three areas.

Congress had refused to provide the military aid until the State Department certified that the Colombian military had suspended military personnel who had engaged in grave human rights violations, cooperated with civilian prosecutors in rights cases and was severing ties with right-wing paramilitary forces called the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia.

Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage formally certified Colombian compliance Monday morning.

State Department officials explained the decision to representatives of human rights groups.

The certification was assailed by William Shulz, executive director of Amnesty International USA.

"To say that Colombia has complied with human rights conditions is nothing short of a farce," Shulz said, alleging that the Colombian military has not made significant progress in any of the three areas.

A State Department official, who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity, said 16 Colombian military personnel have been suspended for human rights violations in recent months, including six officers, and 29 others were dismissed for trying to cover up the deaths of two civilians.

In addition, he said, a Colombian general, Rodrigo Quinones, was removed from his command based on allegations that he did nothing to prevent the massacre of 21 civilians by a paramilitary unit. He said a second massacre in which Quinones has been implicated involved the deaths of 27 civilians.

As for the paramilitary units, known by their Spanish initials AUC, the official said 416 members were arrested during the first eight months of this year compared with 590 in all of 2001.

In addition, he said, 160 others were killed in combat.

The AUC, considered a terrorist organization by Washington, is made up of militias that are accused of the majority of the massacres in Colombia's bloody civil war.

Their links with the Colombian military have been a sore point here for years, particularly among human rights groups.

Shulz said the ties between the AUC and the Colombian military persist.

"These brutal groups have ties to Colombian military and units that have benefited from U.S. funding in the past, making the U.S. party to the injustices suffered by Colombian civilians on a daily basis," Shulz said.

"By continuing to provide military aid to Colombia, the U.S. is once again sending the dangerous message that human rights are niceties that are completely dispensable when the going gets tough."