Report shows Colombian army chief, terrorist ‘link’

By Paul Richter and Greg Miller WASHINGTON, Los Angeles Times

The CIA has obtained new intelligence that the head of Colombia’s American-backed army collaborated extensively with right-wing militias that the U.S. considers terrorist organizations, including a militia headed by one of the country’s leading drug traffickers. Disclosure of the allegation about army chief Gen. Mario Montoya comes at a time when the high level of U.S. support for Colombia’s government is under scrutiny from Democrats in Congress. The disclosure could heighten pressure to reduce or redirect that aid because Montoya has been a favorite of the Pentagon and an important U.S. partner in the U.S.-funded counterinsurgency strategy called Plan Colombia. The US$700 million a year Colombia receives makes it the third-largest beneficiary of U.S. foreign assistance.

Montoya has a long and close association with Colombia’s president, Alvaro Uribe, and would be the highest-ranking Colombian officer implicated in a growing political scandal in Colombia over links between the outlawed militias and top officials. The scandal has implicated the country’s former foreign minister, at least one state governor, legislators and the head of the national police and has shaken Uribe’s government.

President Bush called Uribe a “personal friend” during a visit to Bogota, the Colombian capital, two weeks ago, and his government is one of the Bush administration’s closest allies in Latin America.

The intelligence about Montoya is contained in a report recently circulated within the CIA. It says that Montoya and a paramilitary group jointly planned and conducted a military operation in 2002 to eliminate Marxist guerrillas from poor areas around Medellin, a city in northwestern Colombia that has been a center of the drug trade.