WASHINGTON (AFP) — Colombia may allow more US aircraft on its air bases as part of a new military cooperation agreement being negotiated, according to visiting Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos.
The move could allow the United States to make up for the potential loss of Ecuador's Manta air force base, key to counternarcotics operations in the region, should a bilateral agreement not be renewed, as Quito has threatened.
"We're expanding cooperation in every sense, including access to our bases and that is what we're negotiating," Santos told reporters alongside Colombian Foreign Minister Jaime Bermudez during a visit to Washington, where they met with US officials and lawmakers.
The deal being negotiated provides expanded access to Colombia's bases for US military planes, the defense chief said, adding that "instead of one type of airplanes, let's have this other type."
Santos expressed confidence that an agreement would be reached by next month to build on the existing Plan Colombia, under which Washington provides Bogota assistance in return for help in controlling massive drug trafficking largely directed to the United States.
Central to US efforts to stem the illegal trade is the Manta air base on Ecuador's Pacific coast, from where airborne radars comb the Pacific for ships and submarines carrying drugs.
Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa has promised the US base deal would not be renewed. "Sovereignty," he said after winning his runoff election in November 2006, "means not having foreign troops on our soil."
He said the Manta air base would be converted into an international airport when the 10-year base deal expires in November 2009 and US forces pull out.
In July, Ecuador's Foreign Ministry officially notified Washington it would not renew the base deal.
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