February 9, 2002

Bolivia inks deal with protesting coca farmers

LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) --Just in time for Carnaval celebrations, the
government signed an agreement with coca farmers early Saturday in
exchange for the lifting of road blockades that have crippled transport
throughout the nation.

Government officials agreed to suspend a decree prohibiting the commercialization
of coca, an Andean crop that is the base ingredient of cocaine, for 90 days. The
decree, released in January, led to more than three weeks of clashes between coca
farmers and members of combined military-police forces that left nine men dead.

The nation's Constitutional Tribunal will now handle the case of Evo Morales,
political leader of the coca farmers who was ousted from Congress in late January
under accusations of inciting violence, said the government.

Officials also agreed to release some of the coca farmers who were detained during
the protests.

In return for these concessions, the coca farmers have agreed to halt road blockades
they set up across the nation with the help of workers' unions and indigenous

The accord means that all sides are now free to partake in this weekend's Carnival
festivities, which culminate Tuesday.

But it is a temporary solution. Government officials are still committed to eradicating
all illegal coca -- 15,000 acres (6,000 hectares) -- by August, and coca farmers say
they are determined to fight to the death to protect their crop.

Under its U.S.-backed Dignity Plan launched in 1997, Bolivia has already eradicated
some 106,000 acres (42,400 hectares) of coca in the Chapare, a tropical region that
was once one of the world's largest coca-growing hotspots. Resulting clashes since
then have led to dozens of deaths on both sides.

Copyright 2002 The Associated Press.