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Colombia increases U.S. access to bases

October 31, 2009|Associated Press

BOGOTA, COLOMBIA — In a private, low-key ceremony, the U.S. ambassador and three Colombian ministers signed a pact Friday giving American personnel expanded access to military bases in Colombia, a deal that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has called a threat to the region's security.

Foreign Minister Jaime Bermudez said the 10-year deal takes effect immediately and restricts U.S. military operations to Colombian territory -- alluding to fears expressed in the region that it would make Colombia a base for asserting U.S. power in South America.

Details of the pact, which aims to boost drug and counterinsurgency operations, were not immediately released. But Colombia said that it "respects the principles of equal sovereignty, territorial integrity and nonintervention in the internal affairs of other states."

The State Department said in a statement that the accord "does not signal, anticipate or authorize an increase in the presence of U.S. military or civilian personnel in Colombia."

Officials have said it would expand U.S. access to seven Colombian bases while maintaining at 1,400 the cap on military personnel and contractors specified by U.S. law. Bermudez said that with the pact, Colombia was seeking to improve its communications and intelligence capabilities, for which U.S. cooperation has already been a boon.

U.S. counter-narcotics flights that previously operated out of Manta, Ecuador, will now be based at the Palanquero base in the central Magdalena River valley and U.S. Navy port calls will be more frequent.

"We are not bringing U.S. soldiers to Colombia for combat," Bermudez told reporters. "We're not going to see an unusual number of U.S. military personnel, nor U.S. planes."

Currently, there are 230 U.S. service personnel and 400 contractors in Colombia, he said.

Chavez has said the U.S. could use the agreement to destabilize the region.

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