The US Congress has agreed to help fund the controversial demobilisation of thousands of Colombian paramilitaries. It approved a contribution of $20m from next year's budget, but set several conditions for releasing it.
Congress said the state department had to certify that Colombia was co-operating fully with the extradition of paramilitary commanders. Many of them are sought by the United States on charges of human rights abuses or drug trafficking.
The contribution agreed by the US Congress is less than Bogota wanted, but the Colombian Ambassador to Washington, Andres Pastrana, said it was a diplomatic boost. The demobilisation process has attracted little international funding because of concerns the conditions are too lenient.
More than 11,000 paramilitaries have already laid down arms in return for a government amnesty. Under the terms of the controversial two-year peace process, those who have committed crimes face reduced prison terms.
Last month, the main paramilitary group, the right-wing United Self Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC), suspended its demobilisation in a row over the possible extradition of a commander to the US for alleged drug trafficking. But earlier this week, the Colombian government warned the militia group that it should disarm as agreed or face the army. The authorities hope that by the end of the year, all 19,000 members of the AUC will have demobilised. Tens of thousands of civilians are known to have died during Colombia's 40-year civil conflict, involving left-wing rebels, right-wing paramilitaries and state forces, reports BBC news. I.L.