August 26, 2005

Paraguay defends military cooperation with U.S

By Guido Nejamkis

BARILOCHE, Argentina (Reuters) - Paraguay's foreign
minister on Friday defended her country's decision to hold
joint military exercises with the United States in Paraguay
after several South American countries questioned the move.

As part of the joint military effort, Paraguay has agreed
to shield U.S. troops operating on Paraguayan soil from
possible prosecution on criminal charges, consenting to a Bush
administration request that has been widely rejected in the

"The military cooperation agreements we have signed with
the United States should not bother (our neighbors) and
shouldn't be an issue," Paraguayan Foreign Minister Leila
Rachid told Reuters.

She spoke on the sidelines of a two-day meeting of Latin
American foreign ministers from the Rio Group gathered in this
southern Argentine resort city.

Approved by lawmakers earlier this year, Paraguay's
decision came after other countries, including Argentina,
Brazil and Uruguay, spurned similar efforts in protest over the
U.S. calls for immunity.

The issue highlights how some South American countries are
increasingly challenging U.S. policies in a region where public
opinion polls show the Bush administration is widely perceived
as domineering.

Earlier, Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim urged
Paraguayan officials to carry out the military exercises with
"transparency" and suggested other South American countries
were wary of a U.S. troop presence in the region.

Rafael Bielsa, Argentina's top diplomat, said several
countries had expressed similar concerns during the meetings.

U.S. officials have said American troops would undergo
training exercises and carry out humanitarian relief efforts in
Paraguay, but have not said how many troops would be involved
or when the exercises would begin.

The Bush administration has been urging countries across
the globe to implement the immunity agreements that would
shield U.S. soldiers from charges in the International Criminal
Court in The Hague. Washington contends these agreements are
needed to protect American soldiers from politically motivated