S American leaders attack US plan

BARILOCHE: South American presidents attacked plans for US bases in Colombia at a summit on Friday, and issued a statement warning "foreign military forces" against threatening national sovereignty.

The meeting, in the Argentine mountain resort of Bariloche, heard fears from Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez and his leftwing allies that the bases were part of a US strategy to act freely in Latin America, possibly against his oil-rich country.

The final summit declaration warned that "foreign military forces must not... menace the sovereignty and integrity of a South American country and in consequence regional peace and stability."

Its deliberately broad language, avoiding direct reference to the US military and Venezuela, permitted all 12 presidents present to sign the text, including Colombian President Alvaro Uribe.

But it did reflect strenuous demands from Brazil, Chile and Argentina that binding guarantees be made that the US military assets and personnel in Colombia not be used for any other purpose other than their stated mission of fighting drug-traffickers and Colombian rebels.

An attempt by Bolivian President Evo Morales to sign other presidents on to a statement rejecting the bases plan failed.

"As long as there are uniformed foreigners in a South American country, it's difficult for us to think there can be peace," Morales had told the summit.

Chavez was blunter.

The imminent deal to give the US military access to seven bases in neighboring Colombia was "about mobility to make war," said the fierce anti-US critic.

"The US global strategy for domination explains the installation of these bases in Colombia," said Chavez, brandishing a document he said was a US air force strategy document setting out that aim.

In Washington, a Pentagon spokeswoman said the document -- titled "White Paper Air Mobility Command: Global En Route Strategy" -- was "just an academic document."

A copy of it obtained by AFP described possible air bases in Latin America the US air force had considered using, depending on geographic and political availability.

Chavez, who recently bought more than four billions dollars' worth of sophisticated fighter jets and tanks from military ally Russia, has said an increased US military presence in Colombia could unleash "winds of war."

Uribe, responding to some of the criticism at the summit, said he would "not cede one millimeter of sovereignty" in the bases deal. He stressed that a lease arrangement would leave the

facilities under his government's control.

Uribe was effectively isolated at the meeting, however, with even Peruvian President Alan Garcia, who had previously backed him on the issue, backpedaling somewhat.

"If the United States ends up putting invisible (stealth) aircraft and radars in Colombia, I would be tempted to sign a document rejecting the bases," Garcia said.

"If an agreement is reached defining the Colombian area (subject to US military activity), I would not see a threat," he said.