financial times

Colombia seeks support for troops pact

Aug 05--Álvaro Uribe, Colombia's president, has embarked on a hearts-and-minds mission across South America following a hardening of opposition within the region to his decision to grant US troops access to several military bases.

Already strained relations between Colombia and -Venezuela and Ecuador, its leftist neighbours, have worsened over the decision to increase the number of US troops in Colombia from 300 to between 800 and 1,500 as part of a pact it says will strengthen its campaign against leftist guerrillas and drug cartels.

Mr Uribe will visit Peru, Chile, Brazil and Paraguay, and meet the presidents of Argentina, Bolivia and Uruguay on the trip ahead of a special August 10 meeting of Union of South American Nations (Unasur) leaders in Quito to debate the issue.

Hugo Chávez, Venezuela's president, has accused Colombia of establishing a platform from which it could attack its neighbours. Evo Morales, Bolivia's president, said a decision by any Latin American leader to allow US bases would be a "treasonable act".

Until July, the US had -co-ordinated its counter-narcotics efforts out of a base in Ecuador but Rafael Correa, Ecuador's president, refused to renew the lease following a raid last year by Colombian troops on a leftist guerrilla camp on Ecuadorean soil. Raul Reyes, leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc), was killed in the raid and Colombian troops seized a laptop that the government said contained documents alleging Venezuelan and Ecuadorean ties to the guerrillas, something both governments have denied.
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