Chavez warns against US military presence in Colombia

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez

The US will use Colombia as a base to threaten other countries in the region, Chavez said in a speech to the Venezuelan parliament. Earlier, Chavez had said the deal would force him to review Venezuela's relations with Colombia.

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe last week defended negotiations that would allow the US use of three military bases in Colombia in the fight against drug trafficking and terrorism.

The proposed deal has sparked controversy in Colombia, although the government stressed that it did not imply the installation of US military bases on its soil or that Colombia would be used by Washington as a platform for potential attacks in the region.

The opposition views the deal as a violation of Colombian sovereignty and criticised the government for not running the plan past Congress.

General Freddy Padilla, commander of Colombia's Armed Forces and acting defence minister, said the deal - likely to be signed soon - would allow the US to use bases in the northern province of Atlantico and in the central provinces of Cundinamarca and Meta.

Padilla said the deal does not expand the number of US personnel allowed on Colombian soil. Current caps are at 800 military officers and 600 civilian contractors, with 84 military officers and 243 contractors currently in the South American country.

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