Drug traffickers retaliate against US-Colombia war on drugs

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Colombian drug traffickers - stung by the Colombian government's decision to extradite five alleged drug merchants to the United States - are escalating attacks against the Colombian and US governments.

This week's bomb attack against the US Embassy in Bogota, the Colombian capital, is seen by some Colombian observers as the ''opening incident in the campaign'' against the US. The embassy and US personnel were not harmed, but a Colombian woman was killed and five other Colombians were injured in the incident.

Drug traffickers are widely believed to be responsible for the murder last April of Colombian Justice Minister Rodrigo Lara Bonilla, who headed his government's war on drugs.

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Mr. Lara's successor as justice minister, Enrique Parejo Gonzalez, also has received numerous death threats. US officials in Colombia say they, too, are receiving an increasing number of death threats.

The current wave of threats against the US was clearly prompted by Colombian President Belisario Betancur Cuartas's decision two weeks ago to sign an extradition order for five Colombians sought in the US on charges of fraud linked to cocaine-trafficking.

But there has been increasing cooperation between Washington and Bogota on the issue since last May, when President Betancur signed another extradition order sending 18 persons to the US for trial on drug trafficking charges.

The murder of Mr. Lara, who was close friend of Betancur, is viewed by many as the catalyst for the new urgency in President Betancur's efforts to curb drug traffic.

Moreover, the joint Colombia-US war on drug trafficking is meeting with some success. A series of drug busts, netting large caches of cocaine, has clearly alarmed the drug mafia.

One raid by Colombian authorities on a jungle cocaine-processing plant earlier this year netted 13.8 tons of the drug with a street value of $1.2 billion. If they had not been thwarted, Colombian processers and traffickers could have picked up $300 million from that deal.

The drug traffic is lucrative - perhaps worth $6 billion a year to Colombian traffickers. And there are estimates that 90 percent of the cocaine and 60 percent of the marijuana in the US comes from Colombia.

The marijuana is grown in Colombia. The cocaine, from coca leaves grown in Bolivia and Peru, is processed in Colombia.

Although the Colombia-US war on drugs is meeting with some success, it so far has slowed the traffic by no more than 5 to 10 percent, analysts say.

But the Colombian government this week promised no letup in the war. It sent additional security personnel to the US Embassy and US businesses in Bogota and beefed up guards at other embassies.

Two days after the embassy attack, a Colombian spokesman said: ''We are taking this incident seriously, as we have a series of recent threats against the United States Embassy, United States business interests, and a number of other embassies and businesses.''

In one telephone threat to the US embassy, drug traffickers said they would kill five US citizens for each drug dealer extradited to trial in the US. Spanish Ambassador Manuel Garcia Miranda received several threats this week following the arrest in Madrid last week of two Colombian drug traffickers also sought in the US.

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