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Aerial Drug Interdiction Columbia Program Resumes

U.S. Says Aerial Drug Interdiction Program to Resume in Colombia

Airbridge Denial Program had been halted in 2001

The White House announced the resumption of U.S. support for a Colombian program to intercept aircraft used to transport illicit drugs.

In an August 19 statement, the White House said President Bush had authorized the State Department to resume assistance to Colombia in carrying out the "Airbridge Denial Program."

A previous program was suspended in April 2001 after a participating Peruvian Air Force jet mistakenly shot down a civilian plane carrying an American missionary family. Baptist missionary Veronica Bowers and her 7-month-old daughter were killed in the incident.

In granting the authorization, the White House said the president had determined that Colombia had put in place "appropriate procedures to protect against loss of innocent life in connection with interdiction operations."

That same day, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the United States has been working "carefully" with Colombia to establish a "solid basis" for the resumption of the airbridge denial program.

Boucher told reporters that following an agreement in April between the two countries to resume the program, the United States sent an interagency team to work with the Colombians "to ensure that all provisions" in the pact were "fully implemented."

Boucher said the United States worked to obtain additional assurances from the government of Colombia related to the use of U.S. government equipment, such as radars and communications, that are used to ensure the safety of civil aviation and to protect U.S. government employees and contractors from undue personal liability.

The United States, he said, has been training U.S. and Colombian pilots, crew and ground personnel, and "have verified that the training meets the (proper) standards."

Boucher said the United States has been working "to make sure that everything that had to be done could be done, and was done carefully to ensure that the (air bridge) program can resume on a solid footing." The goal, he said, is to ensure that the program meets the need of denying drug trafficking, "but also can be handled safely and not result in incidents such as the terrible one that occurred several years ago."

The United States says the aerial interdiction assistance "will be an important contribution to Colombian President Alvaro Uribe's aggressive and successful efforts to defeat illicit drug trafficking in Colombia."

The following is the text of the White House statement:

Office of the Press Secretary (Crawford, Texas)
August 19, 2003

STATEMENT BY THE PRESS SECRETARY

Presidential Determination Regarding U.S. Assistance to the Government of Colombia Airbridge Denial Program

The President has authorized the Department of State to resume assistance to Colombia in carrying out an "Airbridge Denial Program" against civil aircraft suspected of trafficking in illicit drugs. A previous program proved to be an effective tool in helping reduce the flow of illegal drugs through Colombia to the United States. This previous program was suspended in April 2001 after a tragic accident involving Peru's airbridge denial program resulted in the loss of innocent life. In granting this authorization, the President has determined that Colombia has put in place appropriate procedures to protect against loss of innocent life in connection with interdiction operations. The United States Department of State will take the lead in providing this assistance and will monitor operations to ensure strict adherence to established safety procedures.


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