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29 Nov 2004 07:58
Colombian rebels plotted to assassinate George Bush during his brief stopover in the port of Cartagena last week, according to the country’s defence minister.
Jorge Alberto Uribe told reporters: “We knew that various members of Farc [the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia] had been instructed to attack the US president.”
Bush made an unexpected visit to Colombia while returning to the US from last weekend’s Asian Pacific Economic Conference in Chile.
Security during the four-hour stopover was unusually tight, with helicopters hovering over the motorcade surrounding his armoured four-wheel drive vehicle, which replaced the usual limousine, as it drove through the port. About 15 :000 soldiers were deployed.
Uribe gave no indication as to whether any actual attack was attempted.
“This shows the world that today Colombia is a country that is calm,” he said.
White House sources refused to comment. “We have full confidence in the fine work of the secret service and their work with security officials on the ground when the president travels,” a spokesperson, Jim Morrell said.
A US secret service spokesperson, Jonathan Cherry, told reporters that it “does not comment or release information regarding our protective intelligence and protective methods. The secret service does not discuss any alleged threats to our protectees.”
The last US president to visit Colombia was Bill Clinton, in 2000. A plan to attack him was also thought to have been disrupted when Colombian security forces found bomb-making material in a house six blocks from a building Clinton was visiting.
Bush’s visit followed an unseemly dispute at the Apec conference. A state dinner in his honour was cancelled because the Chilean and US security agencies could not agree on the screening of guests.
The previous day, Bush had intervened in a scuffle, ensuring that his chief secret service agent could enter a dinner for world leaders.
Bush used his trip to Colombia to support President Alvaro Uribe. A conservative with close ties to the White House, Uribe has made a military assault on the Farc rebels, who have been fighting the government for 40 years. His father was killed resisting a Farc kidnapping in the 80s, and he survived a car bomb two years ago.
Bush pledged during the visit to add funds to a $3,3-billion security and anti-drug package for Colombia launched under Clinton and the former Colombian president Andrés Pastrana.
Colombia is the largest recipient of US aid outside the Middle East; it produces 90% of the cocaine and 50% of the heroin consumed in the US. - Guardian Unlimited Â
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