Mon, Nov 29, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Colombia says rebels had plans to kill Bush


Marxist rebels had planned to assassinate US President George W. Bush last Monday during his four-hour stopover in Colombia to meet President Alvaro Uribe, Defense Minister Jorge Alberto Uribe said Saturday, without offering details or proof.

"According to informants and various sources, we had information indicating that various members of FARC had been instructed by their leaders to make an attempt against President Bush," the minister told reporters, referring to the rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, by its Spanish initials.

The White House and the Secret Service declined to comment. Jonathan Cherry, a Secret Service spokesman, said, "We do not discuss any alleged threats to our protectees."

The rebel group, fighting for 40 years to topple the government, is no friend of the US, calling US involvement here an imperialism aimed at securing Colombia's oil and other resources.

But the group's presence in Cartagena and across a great swath of northern Colombia has waned as the military and right-wing paramilitary units have advanced. The rebels are still a potent force but mostly in the south and far east, far from the coast. Indeed Cartagena is considered the safest city Bush could visit.

Colombian authorities have frequently announced that their intelligence services have detected plans by the rebel group to kill Uribe, the closest ally the of the US in Latin America and a determined soldier in the war against rebels and drug traffickers. But aside from a mortar attack on the presidential palace on Aug. 7, 2002, the day Uribe was inaugurated, the rebels have been unable to carry out an attack.

Colombia's president and the defense minister are not related.

Colombia is highly dependent on US aid, having received US$3.3 billion since 2000, most in military assistance.

With the US stepping up its worldwide effort to thwart terrorism, government officials and army generals here frequently highlight this country's own struggle against two rebel groups and a paramilitary militia considered terrorist organizations by the US State Department.

Security was extraordinarily heavy in Cartagena as Bush arrived, prompting one prominent Colombian columnist to remark on what he called American paranoia. Military helicopters bristling with armaments flew over the old walled city, which is nearly 500 years old.

The bay was used only by naval and other military boats, including rubber crafts used by US commandos.

Bush used an armored SUV, instead of a limousine.

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