April 9, 2008 / 2:04 PM / 11 years ago

Ecuador's Correa fires defense minister-sources

QUITO, April 9 (Reuters) - Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa has fired his defense minister after rattling military commanders by accusing the United States of controlling part of the country’s intelligence agencies, government sources said.

Defense Minister Wellington Sandoval will be replaced by a close Correa aide, two top government officials told Reuters late on Tuesday, speaking anonymously because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.

The officials did not specify why Sandoval was removed, but he has faced criticism recently over his lack of leadership within the armed forces. Correa last week accused the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency of manipulating his spy agencies.

The U.S. Embassy has not commented on Correa’s accusations.

Correa, a left-wing former economy minister who took office over a year ago, has scolded the military and police for not delivering timely intelligence during a diplomatic spat with Bogota over a Colombian military incursion last month.

On Tuesday, Ecuador’s top military commanders called for a meeting with Correa to discuss the president’s criticism of intelligence agencies “to prevent putting at risk the country’s security and stability.”

The military has been a major player in Ecuador’s often rocky politics and removed its support for the last three elected presidents. All three were toppled by congressional and street turmoil.

But Correa’s high popularity and planned reforms of the armed forces should shield him from military retaliation, experts say. The military is one of the most trusted institutions among Ecuadoreans and holds strong business interests in industries ranging from airlines to shrimp farms.

A March 1, Colombian raid on a Colombian rebel camp inside Ecuador killed a top guerrilla and sparked a crisis involving Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela. Bogota’s Andean neighbors sent troops to their frontiers until a summit eased tensions.

Correa said recently that the CIA controlled some of Ecuador’s intelligence agencies, getting a hold of confidential information gathered in Ecuador and sharing it with Colombian forces. Colombia is a top U.S. ally in the region and receives billions of dollars in military aid from Washington. (Reporting by Carlos Andrade; writing by Alonso Soto; Editing by Doina Chiacu)

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