Bogota, Colombia Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, one of Washington's best friends in South America, told the United States to stop "meddling" in his country's affairs after the U.S. ambassador urged him to take steps against corruption in regional elections.
U.S. Ambassador William Wood, in a speech in the capital Friday, said the 2003 elections for mayors and governors saw many unopposed candidates because potential opponents were bribed, scared off and, in some cases, murdered.
He said rightist paramilitary groups were often to blame for those abuses and warned the same could happen in elections scheduled for March elections.
The illegal paramilitaries recently signed a peace deal that makes fighters who disarm eligible for benefits such as reduced prison sentences, pardons, job training and stipends. Wood said fighters who seek to manipulate elections should be stripped of their benefits.
Uribe responded in a sharply worded statement late Friday.
"The Colombian government does not accept the meddling of foreign governments, even if it is the United States," he said, adding that it is already clear that paramilitary leaders lose benefits if they break the law.