US-Colombia military bases deal signed



US-Colombia military bases deal signed Bogota: Colombia and the United States signed on Friday a deal granting the US military access to Colombian bases that had been fiercely opposed by several South American nations.

The text of the controversial agreement, which Washington says is aimed to boost cooperation in fighting guerrillas and drug trafficking, was not disclosed in full.

It was signed during a brief closed-door ceremony in Bogota around 7:00 am (1200 GMT) by the chief Colombian diplomat, Jaime Bermudez, and the US Ambassador to Colombia, William Brownfield, the Foreign Ministry said.

Tensions have flared in Latin America since the deal emerged in July, with Venezuelan Hugo Chavez warning that "winds of war" were blowing across the continent.

Several countries in the region -- notably Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia -- have claimed the planned US military deployment is suspiciously large for its stated purpose.

The 10-year deal allows the US military to use seven bases in strategically located Colombia, which shares a border with Venezuela, Ecuador, Brazil, Peru and Panama. Some 800 US troops and 600 American civilians are permitted on Colombian soil.

Washington insists the deal only involves using Colombian bases and will not lead to the building of US facilities on South American soil, as some critics of the plans fear.

During a regional summit on August 28, South American Presidents attacked the plans, warning "foreign military forces" against threatening national sovereignty.

Fears of an arms race in the region were further stoked last month when Caracas purchased Russian military hardware worth four billion dollars.

Bureau Report