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U.S. Hosts Central American Defense Conference in Florida

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 4, 2005 – Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld will host a Central American defense ministers conference at Key Biscayne, Fla., Oct. 12 and 13, Defense Department officials said today.

This is the first high-level conference since the Senate ratified the Central American Free Trade Agreement in July. The conference theme is security and economic opportunity.

Ministers from Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama and the United States will participate. Colombia and Mexico will send observers to the meetings, officials said.

The ministers will talk about long-term goals in building trade and security in the region. The conference's purpose is to encourage Central American countries to work more closely together. Defense officials said the countries will discuss the possibility of setting up a multinational peacekeeping battalion. Three of the countries -- Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador -- have provided troops to the coalition effort in Iraq. El Salvador still has special operations forces deployed to Iraq.

Security is particularly important because it directly affects economic growth and job creation, officials said. The conference will look at the relationship between security and development and ways to strengthen "region-wide institutions."

A number of topics are slated for group discussions. One breakout group will examine regional security mechanisms, including a combined peacekeeping unit. A second group will examine emerging non-traditional threats, to include the problems of gangs and narcoterrorism in the region.

A third issue is increasing cooperation between military and law-enforcement agencies. A fourth will look at maritime safety and security, while yet another group will examine rapid response to natural disasters.

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Donald H. Rumsfeld

Related Sites:
Central American Free Trade Agreement

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