The News Tribune

US defends plan to use Colombian military bases

Aug 14--U.S. military officials on Thursday defended a proposed agreement to use seven Colombia bases, saying the deal would not change U.S. missions in Colombia nor increase the allowed number of troops.

Negotiations to give the U.S. access to the bases for 10 years are expected to be completed by the end of the month, senior U.S. military official Frank Mora told The Associated Press.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez calls the plan a serious threat to the region, and other South American nations from Brazil to Bolivia have also expressed concern.

"It does not envision any larger military presence," said Mora, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Western Hemisphere. "It formalizes what we're already doing."

U.S. officials say American troops will continue to be involved in helping Colombia in counter-drug operations and in supporting its fight against leftist rebels.

The U.S. has on average 250 troops in Colombia, a number could increase to 400 because of construction work planned at one of the bases, Mora said in a telephone interview.
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