Quito, Jul 17 (Prensa Latina) The United States stopped Friday its operations at the Manta military base, on the Ecuadorian coast, and started the process for its definitive withdrawal from that military camp, occupied since 1999.

US military activities are concluding on Friday at the base, which will be returned to the Ecuadorian authorities on September 18, this country’s Defense Minister Javier Ponce said in recent days.

It is the first stage of the process to end the contract, ‘in which they stop operating,’ and there is a set deadline for them to return the base physically, he said.

Ponce recalled that there were negotiations with US Pentagon representatives and the details of the transference of the anti-drug surveillance center were determined, after the Ecuadorian decision of not renewing the contract under which the base was established 10 years ago.

He clarified that the struggle against drug trafficking would not stop, because they have six manned aircrafts, four radar stations and eight speed boats to carry out that activity and safeguard the national sovereignty defense.

Twenty four Spertucano fighter aircrafts, manufactured in Brazil, will add to those means, and will arrive in the country by late 2009.

After the US withdrawal, Ecuador will recover sovereignty of part of its national territory that was given unconstitutionally to the United States by then President Jamil Mahuad on November 12, 1999, amid an economic, social and political crisis that the country was undergoing in that period, an official communique said.

Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa ruled out renewing the contract to authorize the United States to use the base for 10 other years, which forces the foreign troops to leave the country.