EU calls on Colombia to respect rule of law.

The European Union, in a veiled criticism of Colombia's new anti-terror powers, urged the government on Wednesday to respect the rule of law as it combats illegal armed groups in a four-decade-old civil war.

"The best way to fight terrorism and the best way of achieving long-term stability is always to operate within the rule of law," European Commissioner Chris Patten told a news conference in the capital Bogota.

Colombia's Congress in December approved emergency powers for the military, including the right to make arrests without warrants, tap phones and collect evidence in war zones.

The United Nations said the legislation is incompatible with international law, but hard-line President Alvaro Uribe argues the new powers are an essential weapon to combat powerful Marxist rebels and right-wing paramilitary outlaws in a war that claims the lives of thousands of people every year.

Uribe, a close U.S. ally, is set to travel to Europe next month to seek political and economic backing for his security policies.

Colombia's vice president Francisco Santos, in comments published in Tuesday's El Tiempo daily, slammed Europe for having a "neocolonial concept of Colombia's justice" and said Europeans look down on Colombia as a "banana republic."

In the news conference, a diplomatic Patten said Europe looked forward to Uribe's trip and added: "I have been in Colombia all day and I haven't seen a single banana."

[Source: Reuters, Bogota, Col, 21Jan04]

DDHH Colombia

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