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Saturday, 8 July, 2000, 02:05 GMT 03:05 UK
El Salvador backs US drug base
San Salvador
The debate about the US base went on for hours in the San Salvador parliament
By Mike Lanchin in San Salvador

El Salvador has paved the way for the US government to establish a controversial anti-narcotics base in the country to intercept drug trafficking along the Pacific coast.

President Flores
President Flores was keen to get backing in parliament

After a lengthy debate in parliament the right wing President Francisco Flores pushed through legislation to allow US military personnel to operate the new listening post.

The bill was approved despite the fierce opposition of the former Marxist rebels.

The former guerrillas opposed the bill on the grounds that the vague wording of the legislation could open the door to future US military interventions in the country.

Point of honour

They argued the bill does not specify either the number of American soldiers to be allowed on to Salvadorian soil, nor does it set any limits as to where they can go.

It is a point of honour for the ex-rebels who fought the US-backed army here for more than a decade before a peace settlement put an end to the civil war eight years ago.

colombian anti-drug trafficking
The US already has a special relationship with Colombia over drugs

Although the former guerrillas maintained cordial relations with officials in Washington, their anti-US sentiments still run deep.

Now that they have failed to stop the bill in El Salvador's Congress, the ex-rebels threaten to take it to the Supreme Court.

However it is likely to be bogged down there in a backlog of pending cases.

But the issue of the anti-narcotics base is perhaps as important for the Clinton administration as it is for the El Salvador Government, if not more so.

Having lost its control over the Panama Canal last December the US badly needs a replacement base from which it can monitor drug trafficking coming up the Pacific Coast.

In recent months US anti-narcotics personnel have been running joint exercises with police in some of the central American countries but the establishment of a base in El Salvador is considered a key move.

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