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US Senator Freezes Military Aid to Colombia

19 April 2007

A leading U.S. lawmaker has frozen $55 million in military aid to Colombia due to concerns about a scandal linking Colombian politicians to paramilitary fighters.

U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy, a Democrat representing Vermont placed a temporary hold on the aid. He was acting as the chairman of the Senate's State and Foreign Operations subcommittee.

Leahy's spokesman said the money is on hold pending a discussion with the U.S. State Department.

Colombia's Supreme Court is investigating political allies of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe who are suspected of having links to paramilitary squads.

On Wednesday, the court expanded the investigation to include three more pro-government lawmakers, including House of Representatives President Alfredo Cuello.

Also Wednesday, President Uribe rejected allegations from an opposition senator that he helped the rise of far-right death squads in the 1990s.

In a speech in northern Colombia, Mr. Uribe accused the senator, Gustavo Petro, of being a "slanderer."

Petro told a congressional debate Tuesday that Mr. Uribe supported anti-crime groups that evolved into death squads. He said this occurred when the president was governor of Antioquia state, from 1995 to 1997.

Mr. Uribe has denied having any connection to right-wing paramilitaries, which are blamed for massacres, land grabs and drug trafficking.

A former intelligence chief and eight Uribe allies have been imprisoned for alleged collusion with the paramilitary groups.

Some information for this report was provided by Reuters.

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