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Ambassador - U.S. to triple anti-drug aid to Peru
LIMA, Peru -- The United States will triple anti-drug funding to Peru and hopes to announce the resumption of drug surveillance flights when President Bush visits next month, the U.S. ambassador said Tuesday.
Ambassador John Hamilton told reporters that U.S. aid meant to curb drug production and trafficking will increase to more than $150 million in 2002, from about $50 million annually in previous years.
More than $80 million will finance alternative development programs that help Peru's farmers switch from coca, the raw material of cocaine, to other crops including coffee and cacao.
The rest of the aid will support interdiction, drug crop eradication and efforts to reduce demand, including $30 million to "reinforce the fleet of helicopters that are used in the anti-drug fight," he said.
Peru is the world's second largest producer of coca leaf and of coca paste, which is often sent to Colombia for refinement into cocaine. Peruvian gangs have also begun refining cocaine for shipment to the United States via Mexico.
Hamilton said the United States hopes to announce a date for the resumption of drug surveillance flights during Bush's scheduled visit on March 23.
The flights were suspended last April after a Peruvian air force jet, working in coordination with a CIA drug surveillance plane, shot down a missionary flight, killing an American woman and her 7-month-old daughter.
The CIA surveillance craft's crew members had identified the missionaries as a suspicious flight, but later realized they were not drug smugglers. They were unable to dissuade the Peruvians from opening fire.
A senior U.S. official said in Washington on Monday that the plan to resume the flights includes new safeguards such as increased training and mandatory Spanish language capability for U.S. pilots and crews. The plan still needs final approval from administration officials.
Hamilton denied speculation in Peruvian media that the increased aid and Bush's visit are meant to draw Peru into the civil war in neighboring Colombia, where guerrillas and paramilitaries make money from the drug trade. The United States is providing Colombia with $1.3 billion to fight drugs under a program called Plan Colombia.