EU criticises Colombia on rights.

The EU has indirectly rebuked the Colombian Government over radical anti-terror laws, asking it to respect the rule of law in its grinding civil war.

But Chris Patten, EU commissioner currently on a South America tour, said he was supportive of the fight against terror "in principle".

He also criticised the US-backed drive to eradicate coca production, Plan Colombia, saying it was ineffective.

Human rights groups have welcomed Mr Patten's comments.

Emergency powers.

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

But he acknowledged that few European countries had had to fight problems as "substantial" as those faced by the Colombian authorities.

The army now has the right to make arrests without warrants.

The government is trying to quash a decades-long insurgency by leftist guerrillas, violently opposed by right-wing paramilitaries. Colombia's congress approved emergency powers for the military, including the right to make arrests without warrants, tap phones and collect evidence in war zones.

Critics say these powers are often abused, and that the new laws are used as cover to commit human rights abuses.

Mr Patten was more directly critical of Plan Colombia - a drug eradication plan backed by military hardware and $3bn from the United States since its launch in 2000.

He said aerial spraying of the coca plant - the raw ingredient of cocaine - with herbicides was "not effective".

The spraying, he said, "affects other crops, and harms health and the environment".

Coca resistance.

The EU has refused to join Plan Colombia, choosing instead to promote social programmes. During his visit Mr Patten has announced $54m in aid.

Andy Higgenbottom, of the UK-based group Colombia Solidarity, said he applauded Mr Patten's comments.

Coca leaves - evolved to withstand the harsh Andean climate - were often more resistant to spraying than other crops, he told BBC News Online.

By destroying food crops, he said, the spraying programme often ended up displacing peasant farmers.

"If the US was seriously interested in stopping the cocaine supply," said Mr Higgenbottom, "they would attack the cocaine supply chain at higher levels - such as the laboratories where the plant is refined".

[Source: BBC, UK, 22Jan04]

DDHH Colombia

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This document has been published on 25Jan04 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights, in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.