Colombia offers Pentagon air base access

Colombia has offered the Pentagon the use of its air fields for counternarcotics operations in Latin America after Ecuador refused to renew Washington's lease on a base there, a US official said.

But Ecuador might still be on the table too, according to the official, who said Ecuador's Defence Ministry had indicated room for negotiation on the lease despite publicly stated opposition by the country's president. "There have been offers to look at different sites," the senior Defence official said, naming Colombia as one of the countries that offered to discuss alternate sites.

The official spoke last week on condition of anonymity ahead of a planned trip to the region by US Defence Secretary Robert Gates. That trip was later canceled. Counternarcotics operations have become one of the US military's primary missions in Latin America. Colombia and Peru, the world's top cocaine producers, receive the largest amount of US military aid in the region.

Ecuador, which sits between them, has become a key transit point for illegal drugs bound for the United States. Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa, who has called President George W. Bush a "dimwit," has refused to extend the Pentagon's lease on the Manta air base used by US aircraft to help catch South American drug runners.

[Source: Daily Times, Pakistan, 13jul07]

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