July 3, 2020 / 4:25 PM / a month ago

Colombia will contest court order suspending activities of U.S. troops

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia’s government said on Friday it will challenge a court order to suspend the activities of a U.S. army unit advising its military in the fight against drug trafficking.

The decision by the administrative tribunal of Cundinamarca province, released late on Thursday, came after opposition lawmakers alleged the Senate should have authorized the presence of the Security Force Assistance Brigade (SFAB), which arrived in June for a four-month stay.

Opposition lawmakers involved in the suit argue the constitution requires any movement of foreign troops within Colombia be approved by the Senate. They had hailed the ruling late on Thursday.

Defense Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo said the SFAB’s presence does not require authorization by lawmakers, and that the 53 members of the unit are assisting and advising four Colombian units.

“There aren’t troop movements here, it is important to point out it’s about issues related to military international cooperation,” Trujillo said in a virtual press conference.

“The government will contest this ruling and continue carrying out, for reasons of national security, all of the work of bi-national cooperation with the United States, which includes the betterment of our capacities through training and technical advice,” Trujillo added.

While the nation’s highest administrative tribunal, the Council of State, hears the challenge, the government will analyze with the United States Embassy how to comply with the lower tribunal’s ruling, Trujillo said.

He would not clarify whether the SFAB would leave the country in the meantime. The embassy directed all questions to the Colombian government.

Despite decades of anti-narcotics efforts, Colombia is one of the world’s top cocaine producers and faces constant U.S. pressure to reduce cultivation.

Its potential production of cocaine was up by 1.5% last year to 1,137 metric tonnes, the United Nations said last month, even as areas planted with primary ingredient coca decreased.

Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta; Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama

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