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Colombia, U.S. sign military cooperation deal

</head> <body> <p>By Hugh Bronstein</p> <p>BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia and the United States signed a pact on Friday increasing U.S. access to military bases in the South American country, deepening its standing as Washington's main ally in the region.</p> <p>Left-leaning leaders in neighboring countries object to the deal, which gives U.S. troops access to seven bases in an effort to boost anti-drug and counter-insurgency operations.</p> <p>Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez says the pact will destabilize the region and could set the stage for a U.S.-led invasion of his oil-rich country, a claim that Bogota and Washington dismiss.</p> <p>"The pact is based on the principles of total respect for sovereign equality, territorial integrity and not intervening in the internal affairs of other states," said a statement issued by Colombia's foreign ministry.</p> <p>U.S. and Colombian officials say the American military presence in the Andean country will not exceed caps previously set by the U.S. Congress of 800 military personnel and 600 contractors.</p> <p>Washington is relocating its regional anti-narcotics hub to Colombia after the leader of Ecuador, Chavez ally Rafael Correa, refused to extend the U.S. mission in his country. Bolivia and Nicaragua also oppose the U.S.-Colombia deal.</p> <p>The U.S. government already has appropriated $46 million to fund the new arrangement. Most will go to refurbish the Palanquero air force base near Bogota.</p> <p>Colombia, the most reliable U.S. ally in South America, has received around $6 billion in mostly military aid from Washington since 2000.</p> <p>U.S. ALLY URIBE</p> <p>Colombia's conservative President Alvaro Uribe decided not to send the pact to Congress for consideration as recommended last week by a Colombian court. The accord has been criticized locally for granting U.S. troops immunity from criminal prosecution in Colombia.</p> <p>Opposition Senator Gustavo Petro, also a candidate for president, blasted the pact as invalid for not having been approved by Colombian lawmakers.</p> <p>"Uribe signed on because he is completely subjugated to the geopolitical strategy of the American extreme right," Petro said.</p> <p>But polls show most Colombians back the deal.</p> <p>Uribe is a hero to many for his tough stance against Marxist rebels widely loathed for their practice of kidnapping. The country's biggest guerrilla army -- the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC -- is fighting a 45-year-old insurgency funded since the 1980s by the cocaine trade.</p> <p>Uribe may run for a third four-year term in office if his supporters manage to amend the constitution to allow him to stand in the May election. He is seen by Washington as a buffer against Chavez and Correa, both of whom have extended their periods in power through changes in election laws.</p> <p>Uribe has not said if he plans to run in May. Polls show he remains by far the country's most popular politician.</p> <p>(Editing by Will Dunham)</p> </body> </html> </div><!-- end article-body --> </div><!-- end aticle-body-wrapper --> <aside> <ul class="social-share-btns clearfix"> <li><g:plusone size="medium" href="http://wdez.com/news/articles/2009/oct/30/colombia-us-sign-military-base-deal-us-official/"></g:plusone></li> <li><div id="fb-root"></div><script src="http://connect.facebook.net/en_US/all.js#appId=112315878855956&xfbml=1"></script><fb:like href="http://wdez.com/news/articles/2009/oct/30/colombia-us-sign-military-base-deal-us-official/" action="recommend" send="true" layout="button_count" width="150" show_faces="false" font=""></fb:like></li> <li><a href="http://twitter.com/share" class="twitter-share-button" data-url="http://wdez.com/news/articles/2009/oct/30/colombia-us-sign-military-base-deal-us-official/" data-text="Colombia, U.S. sign military cooperation deal" data-count="horizontal">Tweet</a><script 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