Page last updated at 21:26 GMT, Tuesday, 27 October 2009

US-Colombia base deal 'this week'

Gabriel Silva
Mr Silva said the deal would help fight drug trafficking

Colombian Defence Minister Gabriel Silva has announced that a new military deal between Colombia and the US could be signed as early as Friday.

Under the accord, the US will have access to seven Colombian military bases.

The deal has caused alarm among some of Colombia's neighbours, who object to an increased US military presence.

Both the US and Colombia have stressed their aim is to use the bases to combat drug trafficking and rebels.

Mr Silva said the deal would be signed once he returned to the Colombian capital.

Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela have in the past all expressed their concern.

Speaking in Washington after a meeting with his US counterpart, Robert Gates, Mr Silva stressed the agreement was not a new development, but just a continuation of US-Colombian co-operation.

'Broad support'

"The agreement has no geopolitical or strategic connotation, other than being more effective in the fight against drug trafficking," he said.

Mr Silva said 70% of Colombians backed the deal: "Colombians want more security.

"Colombians want to consolidate what we've already achieved, they don't want to return to the days where we had 4,000 people kidnapped or when people couldn't walk down the street safely."

He also said Colombia had gone to great lengths to reassure its neighbours that they had nothing to fear from its links with the US.

When news of the agreement first broke in August, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez warned that "winds of war" were blowing across the continent.

Tensions flared again between the two countries on Sunday, when the Venezuelan leader called Mr Silva "mentally retarded" on his weekly TV show.

"He is following instructions from the empire, because in Colombia, it's not the Colombians who make the decisions. It's the Yankee empire who decides," Mr Chavez said, referring to Colombia's links with the US.

Asked in Washington how he had reacted to Mr Chavez's comments, Mr Silva said he would follow the advice his grandmother had given him when he was a child and "just shrug off the insult".

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