U.S. general cites progress in Colombia

Nancy San Martin

Colombia's struggle against drug-trafficking and guerrillas is now going well, a U.S. military official says. nsanmartin@herald.com www.miami.com

Colombia's U.S.-trained armed forces have gotten so much better at combating drug-trafficking and guerrilla activities over the last year, the country's largest insurgency group may have to opt for peace negotiations within the next 12 to 18 months, a senior Southcom official said Wednesday.

''If the Colombian military keeps the pressure up . . . I think you're going to see some sort of movement on the part of the FARC [Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia],'' Brig. Gen. Benjamin R. Mixon, director of operations at the Pentagon's Miami-based U.S. Southern Command, told The Herald.

''They are no longer going to be able to sustain their operations,'' Mixon said. ``Ideally they'll decide to come to some kind of negotiations with the Colombian government.''

Mixon said deadly bomb explosions, like the one that went off at a black-market shopping district in downtown Bogotá Wednesday, indicate a ''movement to terrorism'' by guerrilla organizations, which have historically launched military-type operations.

Although no group had yet claimed responsibility for the car bombing, the FARC has taken credit for similar detonations. Those kinds of terrorist activities serve as a sign that trouble is brewing within the organization, Mixon said.

Mixon, who met with editors and reporters at The Herald, also dismissed recent reports that suggest Venezuela has links with rebels in neighboring Colombia and is providing assistance to Islamic radicals from the Middle East and other terrorists.

According to a recent U.S. News & World Report article, Venezuela is providing identity documents similar to Social Security cards that could be useful to radical Islamic groups and is host to Cubans operating inside Venezuela's paramilitary and intelligence apparatus.

''I have no reason to believe that,'' Mixon said, adding that Southcom has no details about which borders terrorists are crossing.

''We certainly don't have any information that they are being supported by any other government in the region,'' he said.