Wed, 06 Aug 2003 - Miami Herald (FL)

U.S. Drug Flights to Resume in Colombia

WASHINGTON - Secretary of State Colin Powell has approved the resumption of U.S.  surveillance flights over Colombia, which then guide Colombian air force jets to drug planes that can be shot down, after a two-year suspension imposed when a plane carrying American missionaries was mistakenly shot down, a U.S.  official said Tuesday.

The official said the White House is expected to announce the resumption of the drug surveillance flights Thursday, when President Alvaro Uribe observes his first anniversary in office.
Uribe has advocated a strong stand against drug traffickers.

''The memo went out last night,'' said the official, referring to Powell's recommendation.  The process took far longer than expected as officials attempted to put safeguards in place that will minimize the possibility of a repeat of the tragedy of two years ago.

At the time, surveillance flights were conducted over Peru and Colombia.

They were suspended in April 2001 after a Peruvian fighter jet acting on U.S intelligence shot down the ill-fated flight, killing U.S.  missionary Veronica Bowers and her daughter Charity.

U.S.  government and congressional investigations said many factors contributed to the mistake, including a failure to follow established procedures, inadequate Peruvian air control and inadequate foreign language skills by Peruvians and Americans.

New procedures will be clearer for identifying and communicating with suspected planes and establishing a chain of command for making the decision to fire on a plane.  Colombians would make the final decision.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan, who is with President Bush in Crawford, Texas, said an inter-agency process has helped develop procedures to enhance safety.

''The president's overriding concern is to support our allies in Colombia to address the threat to their national security posed by illegal drug trafficking while ensuring that procedures are in place to protect innocent life,'' McClellan said.

Other officials have said no agreement is expected soon to resume flights over Peru, which lacks radar and aircraft needed for the program.


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