Ecuador declares World Bank official unwelcome

AFP , QUITO

Sat, Apr 28, 2007 - Page 7

President Rafael Correa has expelled the World Bank's representative from Ecuador, accusing the institution of attempting to extort him when he was economy minister in 2005, officials said on Thursday.

The leftist president, in office since January, has charged that the global development lender suspended a US$100 million loan for Ecuador in 2005 in retaliation for his reform of the country's oil sector.

The foreign ministry said in a statement that Correa declared World Bank official Eduardo Somensatto of Brazil persona non grata -- a diplomatic term equivalent to an expulsion -- and immediately informed the Washington-based bank.

Diplomatic sources said the letter implies the representative's expulsion but does not necessarily mean the suspension of the bank's activities in Quito.

"The declaration of persona non grata implies that Somensatto should leave the country urgently, a bit urgently or not urgently at all," Jose Luis Moreno, a former diplomat, was quoted as saying in the newspaper El Comercio.

The foreign ministry said the World Bank was notified of the decision by letter on Tuesday to the bank's offices in Washington and Quito. At the time, Somensatto was outside Quito, it said.

In Washington, the World Bank said it wanted to keep open its communication channels with the Ecuadoran government and was evaluating the implications of Somensatto's "withdrawal."

"We reiterate the willingness of the institution to maintain dialogue at the highest level with the nation's authorities," the bank said in a statement.