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Spain to give Colombia $100 million to promote peace

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MADRID (Reuters) — Spain today pledged $100 million in aid to Colombia as part of a new European initiative to help bring peace to the South American country after decades of struggle against drug lords and Marxist rebels.

The announcement came at a one-day international conference to discuss Colombian President Andres Pastrana's request for $1 billion in so-called social aid from European donors.

"Spain will contribute $100 million as an incentive to finance the (peace) process," Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Pique told reporters.

The assistance would help finance Pastrana's proposed $7.5 billion "Plan Colombia" aimed at stemming drug-trafficking and funding an eventual peace deal with Marxist FARC rebels.

"We are going to help Colombia in the peace effort after five decades of violence," Pique said. "It is a categorical support for the peace process and Pastrana's vision of the future."

No timetable was provided for disbursing the aid.

The conference brought together representatives from 23 countries including members of the European Union.

Diplomatic sources have said the Europeans are unlikely to come up with the entire $1 billion Colombia has requested because they are opposed to the U.S.-funded military component of Plan Colombia.

The U.S. Congress late last month finalized a $1.3 billion package of mostly military aid for Bogota to help fight cocaine traffickers, who ship most of their drugs to the United States.

But some very senior officials in Madrid were clearly arguing for Pastrana's cause.

"The country (Colombia) is in an extremely difficult situation, in which the old armed conflict...and drug trafficking are interwoven," said Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy chief and a former NATO secretary-general.

"Responding to the request for aid from the government of Colombia is not just a case of generosity...it is an obligation and not just an act of the heart," Solana told reporters.

Inter-American Development Bank chief Enrique Iglesias said the Madrid conference was not meant to debate the merits of the Plan Colombia but to discuss the future funding of "social projects" to rebuild Colombian society.

"There will not be a solution to the drug problem until we achieve peace," Iglesias said.