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Last Updated: Friday, 14 October 2005, 09:52 GMT 10:52 UK
C America will get special force
By Simon Watts
BBC News, Miami

Guatemalan woman among the ruins of a house in Itzapa
The situation in Guatemala served to focus minds
Central American nations have agreed to speed up plans for a military rapid reaction force to respond to natural disasters such as Tropical Storm Stan.

The agreement was announced at the end of a US-organised meeting of defence and security ministers in Miami.

The unfolding disaster in Guatemala dominated what had promised to be a routine meeting, with the country's delegate providing regular updates.

But despite the sense of urgency, it is not clear how big the force will be.

Legal problems

Guatemala's delegate told the two-day meeting that the mudslides triggered by Stan had buried as many as 2,000 people, and affected one-third of the population through damage to roads, crops and housing.

Guatemalan Minister of Defence Major General Carlos Humberto Aldana Villanueva (right) and US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in the background
Ministers did not say how large the new force would be
His updates concentrated the ministers' minds when they discussed a new rapid reaction force to deal not just with storms, but the earthquakes that also plague Central America.

They agreed that the new force would have engineering and medical troops from countries across the region.

But there are still legal obstacles to overcome.

Because of long-standing territorial disputes, some Central American countries have constitutional bans on troops from their neighbours.

As the meeting in Miami wound up, officials in Guatemala City made a suggestion that could be of more practical help.

They have asked the US to grant temporary asylum to undocumented Guatemalan workers.

That would help them to send much-needed money back to their relatives during the long recovery from Tropical Storm Stan.


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