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US eyes deeper security co-operation in Latin America

15 April 10 09:29 GMT

The US is seeking deeper security co-operation with its Latin American allies, US defence secretary Robert Gates has said.

Mr Gates was speaking as he began a visit to Colombia, where he was due to hold talks on a defence co-operation deal the two nations signed last year.

The accord provoked regional criticism, in particular from Venezuela.

Mr Gates's visit to the region comes two weeks after Russia concluded a major arms deal with Venezuela.

Mr Gates arrived in Bogota from Lima where he held talks on deepening an existing military partnership and working regionally to combat drug-trafficking.

"They face similar types of problems with insurgents and narcotics and crime, so figuring out how we can further help them in their own efforst and also in their co-operation with each other is an important opportunity," Mr Gates said.

The US defence secretary told reporters his tour was not designed to send a message to the Venezuelan government, but focused on building on already strong ties in the region.

"These arrangements between ourselves and Brazil, ourselves and Peru, ourselves and Colombia, are about these countries, not about anybody else," he said.

Brazilian deal

Earlier this week, the US and Brazil signed a military agreement designed to boost ties in the area of defence technology, military exchanges and training.

Both sides stressed that the accord did not mean the US would be using Brazilian bases.

A deal signed last year between Washington and Bogota gave the US military access to seven Colombian bases.

Both sides stressed that the accord was aimed at helping Colombia's fight against drug-trafficking and armed groups, and was not an infringement of Colombian sovereignty.

President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela at the time condemned the agreement, saying it could destabilise the region - a claim the US and Colombia rejected.

Earlier this month, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was in Venezuela, where he and President Chavez concluded arms deals worth up to $5bn (£3.3bn).

Mr Gates said earlier this week that he did not regard Venezuela as a military threat.

"The Russians are actually loaning them a fair amount of money to buy the weapons they're buying," he said.

"My guess is that Venezuela could much better spend the money taking care of its own people."

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