U.S. Continues Assistance to Colombia Aerial Drug Interdiction

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(official press release by the U.S. government)

Counternarcotics effort aims to halt aerial transport of illicit drugs

Washington — President Bush has authorized the U.S. Department of State to continue assistance to Colombia in carrying out an Airbridge Denial (ABD) Program that targets civil aircraft "reasonably suspected of trafficking in illicit drugs," says the White House.

In a statement issued August 17, the White House explained that the president’s authorization was granted after determining that Colombia "has put in place appropriate procedures to protect against the loss of innocent life in connection with interdiction operations."

The ABD program began in the early 1990s, and it operates in Peru as well as in Colombia. However, it temporarily was suspended following the April 2001 accidental shootdown by the Peruvian air force of an aircraft carrying U.S. missionaries. The incident, triggered by a mistaken belief that the airplane was being used to transport illicit drugs, caused the deaths of Baptist missionary Veronica Bowers and her infant daughter. The program was resumed only after the governments of Peru, Colombia and the United States jointly established a new series of safety procedures to prevent similar tragedies.

Reintroduced in Colombia in August 2003, the ABD program is part of a broader counternarcotics effort that entails close cooperation between Colombia and the United States. Among U.S. federal agencies, the State Department takes the lead in coordinating ABD assistance with the government of Colombia. According to the White House, the State Department — with other U.S. agencies lending appropriate support — "has the ability to continue to work with the government of Colombia to ensure effective counternarcotics operations while observing strict adherence to agreed-upon and well-established safety procedures."

Bush’s most recent authorization to continue U.S. assistance for the ABD program in Colombia will be the fourth Presidential Determination on the matter, the White House said.

The White House statement is available on the White House Web site.

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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