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Peru: 2 young women arrested for drug trafficking treated well, archbishop says

By Nelson Quinones. Rafael Romo and Laura Smith-Spark, CNN
updated 3:01 PM EDT, Tue August 13, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Peruvian police are holding two young women suspected of drug trafficking
  • Melissa Reid, held with Michaella McCollum, says she was made to carry the bags
  • Archbishop of Lima Sean Walsh says the two are being well treated in detention
  • UK and Irish authorities say they are providing consular assistance to the two women

(CNN) -- Two young women arrested in Peru on suspicion of drug trafficking are in good condition and being well treated while in detention, a senior clergyman in Lima said Tuesday.

The women, Melissa Reid, 19, from Scotland and Michaella McCollum, 20, from Ireland, were arrested by Peruvian national police at Jorge Chavez International Airport in the capital on August 6.

They were stopped as they tried to board an Air Europa flight from Lima to Madrid after authorities allegedly found 11.59 kilograms (25.5 pounds) of cocaine in their luggage. Their final destination was Palma de Mallorca.

The cocaine was found inside pouches of oatmeal and dehydrated foods.

"I was forced to take these bags in my luggage," said Reid, in video footage of the police interrogation.

McCollum's family issued a statement Tuesday saying that they stand behind their daughter and are making arrangements to go to Peru.

"Michaella's family are obviously shocked and distressed by the recent events but are confident that Michaella will be exonerated," family attorney Peter Madden said.

According to police, the pair were contacted by a Colombian named "Enrique" in Palma de Mallorca through a tourism company that flew them to Lima and then to Machu Picchu. But the tourism was cover for a plan to smuggle the drugs, police told CNN.

Archbishop of Lima Sean Walsh, an Irish-American bishop who's been in Peru for the past seven years, told CNN he was able to meet briefly with the young women in the police cell where they are being held.

He said the two are in good condition, are eating well, have clean clothing and are receiving good care.

Walsh dismissed media reports suggesting they are not being treated well and that one of the women is on a hunger strike.

Reid and McCollum are expected to appear before a judge Wednesday, he said. The Ministry of Justice normally has an official translator present, said Walsh, who often visits foreigners held in jail in Lima.

While he was visiting the women, a prosecutor entered and told them that they needed to cooperate as fully as possible, Walsh said.

He expects to see the pair again Wednesday evening, he added.

They do not yet have an attorney to represent them that he knows of, Walsh said. The court system in Peru usually provides a public defender but they may try to hire private defense lawyers, he added.

Walsh said he had also been in touch with the parents of both young women, who are feeling fear and shame over their arrest.

He said McCollum's parents told him she had been calling them every day from Ibiza, the Spanish island on which, according to UK media reports, the two girls had been spending the summer. But the calls home stopped, he said, and the parents then started a social media campaign to find her.

A UK Foreign Office spokesman said: "We can confirm the arrest of a British national in Peru on 7 August. We are providing consular assistance."

A spokeswoman for Ireland's Department of Foreign Affairs said it was providing consular assistance to Connolly and her family through the Irish Embassy in Mexico, and was also working with the British Embassy in Lima.

Peru is now the world's top cultivator of coca -- the plant whose leaves are used to produce cocaine -- having overtaken Colombia for the dubious honor.

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