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US Concerned about Security in Bolivia Following President Sanchez de Lozada's  Resignation

The U.S. Defense Department's Miami-based Southern Command is sending a team of advisors to Bolivia to advise the U.S. Embassy in La Paz on security issues. The decision was made as Bolivia's President announced his resignation after weeks of massive protests against his government.

Officials at the Miami headquarters of the U.S. Southern Command say a small team of advisors will assess the growing insecurity in Bolivia and advise the U.S. Embassy and the U.S. Military group in Bolivia on any security measures that need to be taken to protect U.S. lives and property. Southcom spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Bill Costello says Southcom wants to be prepared for any eventuality.

"What folks might not realize is that military planning is often done in a vacuum and as plans are written, changes on the ground may require modifications and that is what this team will go down to do," he said. "We have not been directed by anybody higher at headquarters to do this. This is part of Southcom's responsibility and mission as we are responsible for the area of responsibility for Latin America."

Southcom officials will not comment as to whether there are any plans to evacuate U.S. citizens from Bolivia at this time.

Bolivia's President Gonzalo Sanchez De Lozada announced his resignation in a letter sent to Bolivia's congress late Friday.

His resignation capped weeks of massive protests that have left more than 70 people dead. The protests were led by a coalition of indigenous Indian rights groups, miners and farmers and were triggered by Mr. De Lozada's decision to export natural gas to the United States through a pipeline passing through Chile.

Many Bolivians regard Chile as an unfriendly nation for having seized Bolivia's only seaport in a brief war between the two countries in the 19th century.

Mr. De Lozada's decision to resign was finalized on Friday when his coalition government fell apart. Manfred Reyes Villa, head of the center-right New Republican Force Party chose to pull out of Mr. De Lozada's coalition, depriving the President of the two-thirds majority he needed in the Bolivian Congress.

Under Bolivia's constitution, Vice President Carlos Mesa assumes the Office of President until elections can be held.