Wednesday August 8 5:55 AM ET
Anti-U.S. Protesters Occupy Colombian Consulate
By Michael Christie
SYDNEY (Reuters) - A group of Colombians, including children, took over the nation's consulate in Sydney for several hours Wednesday to protest what they called the ''American invasion'' of Colombia and a U.S-backed plan to wipe out the drug trade.
About 100 heavily armed police surrounded the 14-storey office block housing the consulate in the north of the city, evacuating the area, but the occupation by 15 Colombians resident in Australia ended peacefully after five hours.
``Ultimately police achieved a peaceful resolution of the situation,'' police commander Dick Adams told reporters, denying police had overreacted.
The men, women and children were driven away in police vans but released without charge, pending further inquiries, a spokeswoman said.
A spokesman for the group of Colombians told Reuters they represented an organization calling itself ``The Bolivarian Movement for a Second Independence'' of Colombia, and were demanding an end to U.S. influence over Bogota.
``We are protesting against Plan Colombia, we are protesting against the Yankee invasion of Latin America, and the American invasion of Colombia,'' the spokesman said early on in the siege, declining to be identified.
Diplomatic sources with Latin American connections told Reuters they had no knowledge of the group.
Police said two consular staff were in the offices during the occupation.
One of the employees, contacted by Reuters on the consulate telephone during the siege, said the group of protesters had not been armed and the occupation was peaceful.
Plan Colombia is a multibillion-dollar offensive against Colombia's thriving cocaine and heroin trade, and is also aimed at making peace with the country's leftist rebels.
The United States is offering considerable support, mainly in the form of military training and helicopters.
DRUGS AND GUNS
Colombia, the world's biggest cocaine producer, has been mired in a 37-year conflict with rebels in which 40,000 people have died.
Colombian and U.S. officials say the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, Latin America's largest rebel group, reaps between 0 million and 0 million from drugs.
The protesters in Sydney were demanding to be allowed to speak to Colombian President Andres Pastrana and it was not clear if they managed to do so.
Tuesday, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a foreign aid bill that included 6 million to fight Colombia's drug trade, building on .3 billion approved last year as part of former president Bill Clinton's effort to support the plan.
Several neighboring South American countries have expressed concern that Plan Colombia could push the drug trade and its civil war over its borders, while some U.S. politicians fear Washington could be sucked into a new Vietnam.