updated 2/7/2009 9:42:09 PM ET 2009-02-08T02:42:09

President Rafael Correa on Saturday ordered the expulsion of a top U.S. diplomat he accused of suspending $340,000 in annual aid because Ecuador would not allow the U.S. to veto appointments to the anti-smuggling police.

A U.S. Embassy spokeswoman said the official in question, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement attache, left the country in early January when his assignment ended, and that the aid suspension was a U.S. government decision.

Ecuador's leftist president said the official, Armando Astorga, announced the suspension of aid to anti-contraband police in a Jan. 8 letter that also demanded they return all donated equipment — including vehicles, furniture, cameras and phones.

Correa said Astorga also said in the letter addressed to Ecuador's police chief that $160,000 in annual aid to the Human Trafficking Unit "is being reconsidered."

"Mr. Astorga, Keep your dirty money! We don't need it. Here there is sovereignty and dignity," Correa said during his weekly radio address, calling the American "insolent and foolish."

"Mr. Foreign Minister: Give this man 48 hours to get his suitcases and get out of the country," Correa said. He told police chief Jaime Hurtado to return the equipment "to the last eraser."

U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Marta Youth said Astorga left Ecuador last month and that the decision to suspend the assistance was in response an Ecuadorean government policy, without elaborating.

Fred Lash, a spokesman for the US State Department, said the announcement of the expulsion "caused some people to start some dialogue, at least immediately."

Lash said he heard that U.S. ambassador Heather Hodges was planning to talk with the Ecuador's foreign minister to "check why this announcement was made."

Although Correa has vigorously promoted a socialist agenda in this small Andean nation of 14 million, he did not join his allied leftist presidents in Venezuela and Bolivia when they expelled U.S. ambassadors in September. The actions were taken after Bolivia accused Washington of spurring opposition protests, a charge U.S. officials denied.

Relations improving
U.S.-Ecuador relations have been warmer, with U.S. diplomats praising Correa's cooperation in anti-narcotics efforts even after he accused the CIA, without providing evidence, of paying Ecuadorean military officers for information.

Correa read from the Jan. 8 letter, which said the U.S. came to its decision because an "understanding" that members of the anti-contraband unit, known as COAT, would be jointly chosen "is not functioning satisfactorily."

He said that implied that "the embassy had to approve the person we name as commander of COAT and who we name as personnel."

Correa said if Washington was going to insist on vetting Ecuadorean personnel he would insist on the same for U.S. Coast Guard pilots who land their planes on Ecuadorean territory after the lease runs out in November on the U.S. anti-narcotics base at Manta on the Pacific coast.

Correa has refused to renegotiate a renewal of the lease on the Manta operation, the only such U.S. base in South America.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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