Thursday, March 3, 2005

550kg of cocaine seized in Peru

LIMA, Peru (AP) -- Peruvian police seized 550 kilograms (1,210 pounds) of cocaine in the latest of a series of sting operations that have netted nearly 4,000 kilograms (8,800 pounds) of the drug since the beginning of the year, authorities have said.

Canal N television broadcast images of authorities offloading brick-shaped packages wrapped in aluminum containing the cocaine from a refrigerator truck that was seized in the Ventanilla district in the port of Callao, just north of Lima.

Police Col. Luis Rosas told The Associated Press that the cocaine was confiscated Wednesday, as part of an investigation that has yet to determine whether the shipment was linked to Mexico's Tijuana drug cartel.

Last week police arrested 21 alleged members of the Tijuana cartel -- including seven Mexicans, nine Colombians and five Peruvians -- and confiscated 990 kilograms (2,180 pounds) of cocaine bound for the United States.

So far this year, police have confiscated 3,912 kilograms (8,606 pounds) of cocaine and arrested 55 alleged traffickers, police said.

Peru, once the world's leading producer of coca leaf, from which cocaine is chemically extracted, slashed its production by 70 percent between 1995 and 2001, thanks to low coca prices, interdiction, forced eradication of coca fields and programs to help farmers grow alternative crops.

But according to Peru's anti-drug agency, Devida, high coca prices caused production to jump from 44,000 hectares (108,680 acres) in 2003 to 50,600 hectares (123,500 acres) last year as new plantings outpaced eradication.

Peruvian authorities say cocaine traffickers have re-established ties with remnants of the Maoist Shining Path insurgency to thwart the government's coca eradication programs.

Police in Ayacucho, 330 kilometers (205 miles) southeast of Lima, said Thursday that 60 Shining Path guerrillas made incursions Wednesday into two jungle villages in the zone.

Armed with AKA automatic rifles and machetes, the insurgents herded inhabitants into the main plazas and, speaking through megaphones, admonished them not to support anti-coca programs, police said.

No violence was reported.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press.