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Rights need addressing before Colombia trade deal: US lawmakers PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 28 January 2008

Agence France-Presse . Washington

US lawmakers returning from a trip to Colombia with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said there were still human rights concerns to consider before any free trade deal could be signed.

'We are impressed by what we saw but I think many of us have still questions about the labor issues, the human rights issues,' Democratic Representative Eliot Engel of New York, who headed the delegation, told reporters late Friday.

'I take that very seriously,' Engel said aboard a plane that was taking the Democratic congressional delegation home after two days of talks in Medellin. 'I think that those are legitimate concerns that have to be addressed.'

The proposed Free-Trade Agreement has become controversial because of allegations leveled against Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, who is accused of maintaining ties to right-wing paramilitary groups believed to be responsible for multiple killings, including those of labor leaders.

The US president, George W Bush, who has just a few months to complete the diplomatic record of his presidency, sees the accord as a tool to consolidate an alliance between the United States and Colombia and to counter the influence in Latin America of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez.

But Democratic-controlled Congress has delayed consideration of the agreement until Colombia shows 'concrete' results in its efforts to reduce violence and bring its perpetrators to justice.

In a bid to overcome congressional resistance, the Bush administration has intensified congressional contacts with Colombia. Rice accompanied the lawmakers to Medellin Thursday and Friday.

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