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Bolivian cop killed as coca fields nearly wiped out

Bolivian cop killed as coca fields nearly wiped out

LA PAZ, Bolivia (Reuters) -- Bolivia blamed "drug terrorists" for the shooting death of a policeman on Thursday in the coca growing Chapare region, where eradication efforts are nearly complete.

Police officer Abad Espinoza Quinteros was "shot in the face and head" at 6:30 a.m. (1030 GMT) in the Ismael Montes region about 370 miles (600 kilometers) east of La Paz when his patrol was on its way to root out coca plants in the troubled lowland area.

"We're on the right path for the defense of all Bolivians, we're fighting the drug traffickers and this violence will not turn us back," Government Minister Guillermo Fortun said.

The Andean country of eight million people is fresh from weeks-long protests by coca producers against a government eradication campaign that resulted in 10 deaths and 165 injuries in late September and early October.

The Chapare should be "coca insignificant" in December now that 1,323 acres (529 hectares) of coca remained in the region as of Wednesday with 75 to 87.5 acres (30 to 35 hectares) being uprooted every day, Fortun said.

That's down from a 92,500 acres (37,500 hectares) three years ago. Bolivia has been the world's third-largest producer of coca after Colombia and Peru. Until recently it was the second-largest producer of the raw material for cocaine.

The Bolivian government has so far maintained a strict no-negotiation policy with respect to giving ground to the coca growers of the Chapare but does allow some legal cultivation of the crop in the Yungas region used by Aymara and Quechua Indians for traditional medicine.

Copyright 2000 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.



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