HC Deb 30 January 2002 vol 379 cc373-4W
Harry Cohen

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the links between the Colombian army and paramilitary organisations in Colombia; what recent discussions he has had with the US Administration about these links; what support the UK Government give to(a) Colombia and (b) Plan Colombia; whether such support is conditional on the termination of links between the authorities and paramilitaries; and if he will make a statement. [31256]

Mr. MacShane

Allegations of collusion between the Colombian army and the paramilitaries remain a serious concern and recent reports by the United Nations and human rights groups have been critical of the Colombian Government's failure to tackle the problem effectively. In January 2001, the Colombian Government set up a financial task force to investigate, seize and disrupt the funding of paramilitary groups, and a special military unit was created to tackle them. But much remains to be done; laws need to be implemented, weak institutions strengthened, alleged military-paramilitary links investigated and, where proven to exist, terminated.

We continue to have extensive discussions with the US Administration about developments in Colombia, including the paramilitary problem. The US designated the main Colombian paramilitary organisation, the United Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC), as a terrorist organisation in September last year. In November, HM Treasury, in co-ordination with US authorities, circulated a list of 25 terrorist organisations (including the AUC) to financial institutions requiring that their assets be frozen.

The UK assists Colombia both bilaterally and via the EU and the UN. The EU aid package for Colombia to which the UK is contributing will support human rights and social and economic measures, including alternative development. I announced a further bilateral contribution of £120,000 to the UN Human Rights Office in Bogota; on 23 January. Britain has also provided training for Colombia's anti-narcotic police and customs officers. The UK has made no financial contribution to Plan Colombia, either bilaterally or via the EU.

Neither the UK nor the EU has tied its aid to specific conditions. Cutting off aid would only hurt the poorest and most vulnerable communities in Colombia.

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