Rice certifies Colombian progress on rights protection

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has concluded that Colombia qualifies for full funding of its U.S. foreign assistance allocation of "significant progress" under President Alvaro Uribe toward protecting human rights.

Congress has insisted that a portion of U.S. aid be withheld if certain human rights criteria are not met.

Rice has "determined and certified" to Congress that the Colombian government and armed forces are continuing to meet requirements related to human rights, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.

Specifically, McCormack cited progress by the Colombian military in severing ties with rightist paramilitary groups, which have collaborated with the armed forces secretly over the years.

"We will continue to urge the Government of Colombia to further strengthen human rights protections and to take additional steps to ensure accountability for perpetrators of human rights abuses and other crimes," McCormack said.

The certification permits the final 12.5 percent of fiscal 2005 aid to be spent.

Rice's decision was announced two days after Uribe's landslide re-election victory.

Eric Olson, Latin America expert at Amnesty International USA, expressed deep disappointment about Rice's action.

He said the group raised with U.S. officials its concerns about two dozen alleged abuses by the Colombian military and the AUC paramilitary organization.

"We've heard nothing back on these cases," Olson said, reports AP.


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