Court upholds US military treaty

Drug surveillance flights to continue
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The Independent US

A constitutional court in Quito has upheld a treaty signed more than a year ago that allows the US military to operate drug surveillance flights from Ecuadorean territory.

A constitutional court in Quito has upheld a treaty signed more than a year ago that allows the US military to operate drug surveillance flights from Ecuadorean territory.

The president of the Constitutional Tribunal, Rene de la Torre, said the 10-year agreement signed in October 1999 complies with Ecuador's constitution and should not be modified or annulled.

A humanitarian group requested the constitutional review amid growing popular skepticism of the treaty, which some view as tacit support of US military intervention in neighbouring Colombia.

The agreement allows the US military to run surveillance flights over drug-producing regions in Central and South America from the Manta airfield, 160 miles southwest of Quito.

The imminent Plan Colombia - a US-backed initiative to eradicate drug trafficking in Colombia - has sparked fear among Ecuadoreans that their country will be used as a staging ground for US military activities across the border.

US officials have repeatedly ruled out such a scenario.

After speaking before the constitutional court, a retired Army general told reporters that Plan Colombia is primarily a military operation, which he said would use the Manta air base for "operational support."

"Plan Colombia has two aspects. One is to substitute crops, to exterminate coca cultivation," said retired Gen. Rene Vargas. "But the principal factor is indisputably military, to put an end to insurgent forces."

Ecuador's current air force chief, Gen. Oswaldo Dominguez, who also spoke before the court, said the US would only operate "planes for control and monitoring of drug trafficking" out of the Manta base.

Many Ecuadoreans believe Plan Colombia could harm their nation if a full-blown conflict erupts across the border pitting Colombian forces against drug cartels and leftist guerrillas, who take payments to protect the drug trade.

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