Pubdate: Thu, 31 Jan 2002
Source: Boston Globe (MA)
Copyright: 2002 Globe Newspaper Company
Author: Ken Guggenheim, Associated Press


WASHINGTON - The United States hopes to complete a plan next month for 
resuming anti-drug surveillance flights over Peru and Colombia - flights 
that could lead to the shooting down of planes flown by suspected 
traffickers, a State Department official said yesterday.

The flights have been suspended since the Peruvian military mistakenly shot 
down a Baptist missionary plane last year, killing an American woman and 
her infant daughter.

Assistant Secretary of State Rand Beers said the United States is 
determined to resume the flights with changes in procedures to prevent 
other accidents.

''The issue is how, not whether'' to resume flights, Beers said after 
meeting with reporters at the Organization of American States.

Beers led the American side of a US-Peruvian team that investigated the 
April 20 accident. It found that communications problems and a failure to 
follow proper procedures led to the downing.

A CIA-operated surveillance plane had considered the missionary's flight to 
be suspicious and a Peruvian fighter was called in to intercept it. The US 
crew later realized the flight was innocent, but couldn't stop the 
Peruvians from shooting at it.

Veronica Bowers and her 7-month-old daughter, Charity, were killed. The 
missionary pilot, Kevin Donaldson, was wounded.

In its foreign aid bill approved last month, Congress said no money could 
be spent on drug surveillance flights in Peru until new safeguards are in 
place to prevent accidental shootdowns.

Also, a Senate panel in October recommended that the CIA stop running the 
interdiction flights, saying lax management was to blame for the downing.

Beers said officials were still trying to work out details of how the air 
surveillance program would be operated and by whom. And though he said 
''hopefully nobody has to be shot down,'' that option would remain open for 
the Peruvian and Colombian militaries if a suspected drug flight refuses to 

''The worst-case scenario obviously is the use of deadly force to bring a 
plane to the ground,'' he said.

Peru's policy of shooting down suspected drug flights is credited with the 
country's sharp drop in the production of coca, the raw material for 
cocaine. Peru had been the world's main producer of coca in the 1990s, 
before the shootdowns began. Now most coca cultivation takes place in 
Colombia, the world's leading producer of cocaine.

Both Peru and Colombia have said that trafficking has increased since the 
United States suspended surveillance flights.

Beers said he has seen no evidence of an increase, though it may be true.
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