April 5, 2011 / 4:08 PM / 9 years ago

Ecuador demands U.S. envoy leave over WikiLeaks

QUITO (Reuters) - Ecuador on Tuesday demanded the U.S. ambassador leave the country, declaring the envoy “persona non grata” over U.S. diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks reporting alleged police corruption.

U.S. Ambassador to Ecuador Heather Hodges (R), Ecuador's Justice Minister Gustavo Jalk and Ecuador's Foreign Minister Fander Falconi (L) arrive to sign an agreement and accord letters in the fight against drug trafficking and international crime in Quito August 25, 2009. REUTERS/Teddy Garcia

Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino told reporters he had not received a satisfactory explanation from U.S. ambassador Heather Hodges about cables previously released by WikiLeaks and signed by her office.

“Ecuador’s government has decided to consider this woman as a persona non grata ... we have asked her to leave the country in the shortest time possible,” he said.

Patino said the decision did not mean Ecuador was breaking off relations with the United States and he hoped relations would not be affected by the measure against Hodges.

The U.S. government said the expulsion was “unjustified.”

“The Department will examine its options to respond to this Ecuadorean action,” State Department spokesman Charles Luoma-Overstreet said in an emailed comment.

The Ecuadorean embassy in Washington said the measure was aimed at Hodges and not the U.S. government.

“It is unfortunate that the published documents on WikiLeaks have made it impossible to continue collaborating with the current ambassador to Quito, but we hope to work with a new ambassador,” the embassy said in a statement.

WikiLeaks has caused an international uproar by handing sensitive U.S. diplomatic documents to the media.

The U.S. ambassador to Mexico resigned last month after a public spat with President Felipe Calderon. Tensions were fueled by WikiLeaks reports of comments made by the envoy about the Mexico’s lack of coordination in battling powerful drug cartels.

Patino said he had contacted Hodges about cables signed by her that suggested high-level police commanders were aware of corrupt practices and that one embassy official believed the president’s office also knew.

President Rafael Correa, who is aligned with leftist governments in the region, has clashed with the United States before. In 2009, he expelled two U.S. embassy officials for meddling in internal affairs in a case related to equipment for the country’s police force.

Ecuador late last year had initially offered WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange the possibility of working and seeking residency in the Andean country. But Correa later withdrew the offer saying Assange had broken U.S. laws.

Reporting by Quito newsroom, additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed in Washington, editing by Anthony Boadle

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