Ecuador prepares for Bush visit Sunday


QUITO, Ecuador -- Vice President George Bush in a visit Sunday will offer to send U.S. Army reservists to help Ecuador rebuild from earthquakes that left at least 1,000 people dead or missing, a U.S. diplomat said Saturday.

Heavily armed police sealed off several blocks around the presidential palace Saturday in preparation for Bush's 4 -hour visit, which follows student protests against an emergency 80 percent hike in gasoline prices.


Bush is to meet with President Leon Febres Cordero, who is expected to seek U.S. aid in asking foreign bankers for new loans and leniency in repaying Ecuador's $550 million in interest on its $8.3 billion debt, officials said.

Ecuador suspended debt payments March 13, eight days after earthquakes triggered landslides and floods, swept away villages and ruptured a 20-mile stretch of a crucial trans-Andean oil pipeline.

Febres Cordero has said at least 1,000 people died or disappeared.

The U.S. diplomat, who declined to be named, said the United States would offer to send 400 to 600 Army reservists in May to finish a road leading to a jungle region where 75,000 people are isolated by the landslides, which blocked key highways.


The diplomat said the aid will be announced by Bush, who will be accompanied by Peter McPherson, director of the U.S. Agency for International Development, and Elliot Abrams, assistant secretary of state for InterAmerican affairs.

The United States already has sent $230,000 in aid since the disaster, mostly tents, blankets, drinking water and plastic sheeting.

In Washington, officials said Ecuadoran officials were expected to request that U.S. helicopters ferry supplies to the jungles of Lago Agrio, where 2,000 people were killed and 12,000 left homeless by earthquakes and subsequent floods.

Aides said Bush would not tour the most damaged areas because they are several hours away from Quito even by helicopter. They said the vice president's plane, Air Force Two, was scheduled to fly over the hardest hit area.

The destruction of the pipeline near Baeza, about 125 miles southeast of Quito, halted oil exports which provide about 60 percent of Ecuador's export income. The government hiked gasoline prices to curb domestic demand during the crisis.

Febres Cordero has said Ecuador faces $1 billion in lost oil earnings and costs in repairing the pipeline, which may not be fixed until early August.

Saturday, a Venezuelan tanker was traveling to the Ecuadoran port of Balao with 330,000 barrels of oil, officials said. The shipment is part of 5 million barrels of petroleum Venezuela has offered to lend Ecuador to meet its daily 100,000-barrels-a-day domestic demand.


Venezuela also has offered to lend Ecuador an additional 7.5 million barrels of oil for export purposes. Officials said by early April, Ecuador will begin exporting the borrowed petroleum.

Also, Colombia has agreed to let Ecuador link its eastern oil fields to a pipeline in southern Colombia, pump oil to Colombia's Pacific coast and then ship it to Ecuadorn coastal refineries, Ecuador's official Sendip news agency said.

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