BOGOTA, Aug 8 (Reuters) - Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez on Saturday told Colombian President Alvaro Uribe to show up to a regional summit to explain a plan to expand the U.S. troop presence at Colombian military bases.
The proposal to allow the U.S. military to use seven Colombian military installations for counter-drug operations has soured ties between the Andean neighbors and fueled concern from governments across the region from Brazil to Chile.
A fierce opponent of U.S. influence, Chavez joins other South American leaders on Monday for a summit in Ecuador, where the base plan is expected to top the agenda. U.S. ally Uribe is not attending, but toured the region to drum up support.
“Uribe should show up, come and face the music and let’s sit down and talk,” Chavez told local Colombian television RCN.
Chavez portrayed the base expansion as aggression against OPEC member Venezuela. Chavez had withdrawn his ambassador to Bogota, saying the plan could spark war in South America, but on Friday night he ordered his envoy to return to Colombia.
Colombia, the world’s No. 1 cocaine producer, has received more than $5 billion in mostly military aid from Washington to fight drug traffickers and FARC rebels. The base deal is an extension of an existing military cooperation accord.
U.S. President Barack Obama on Friday denied the United States is planning to set up military bases in Colombia as part of the upgraded security agreement and has no intention of sending large numbers of additional troops.
The United States is in talks with Uribe’s government about relocating U.S. drug interdiction flight operations to Colombia after being kicked out of neighboring Ecuador.
The plan is expected to increase the number of U.S. troops in Colombia above the current total of less than 300 but not above 800, the maximum permitted under the existing military pact, officials said.
Tensions between Colombia and Venezuela heated up last month when Bogota charged that Caracas had supplied arms to Colombia’s FARC guerrillas. The Andean neighbors often spar over what Bogota sees as Chavez’s backing for guerrillas and over Colombia’s conflict spilling across the border.
Reporting by Patrick Markey in Bogota; Editing by Will Dunham
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