WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives approved $465 million on Thursday to fund an anti-narcotics package to help battle drug cartels in Mexico and Central America.

By a vote of 416-12, the House approved the funding for the first year of the so-called Merida Initiative, proposed in October by President George W. Bush as a three-year plan to provide Mexico with aircraft, equipment and training to fight drug traffickers.

“Congress has come to agreement on supporting the first year of the Merida Initiative to combat the narcotics trade and the violence that it spawns,” said Rep. Howard Berman, a California Democrat and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

The plan, which offers $85 million less than Bush requested for fiscal 2008, is expected to be approved in the Senate next week, legislative sources said.

The House version softens language aimed at protecting human rights, which Mexico said would require constitutionally unacceptable changes to its laws.

Mexico is spending $7 billion of its own money to fund its 18-month old crackdown on the powerful and violent cartels that smuggle Colombian cocaine north to U.S. consumers.

A senior Mexican police official said last month that the biggest contribution the U.S. government could make would be to stop the flow of guns into Mexico from the United States.

U.S. legislators approved $400 million dollars for Mexico and $65 million for Central American countries.

More than 1,400 people have been killed in drug violence across Mexico so far this year, compared with 2,500 murdered in 2007.

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