Bush seeks funds to help Mexico combat drug trade

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WASHINGTON, Oct 22 (Reuters) President George W Bush today asked Congress for 500 million dollars to help Mexico combat the narcotics trade, a request that is part of a larger program for cooperation on the issue.

''The United States will do all it can to support Mexico's efforts to break the power and impunity of drug organizations and to strengthen Mexico's capabilities to deal with these common threats,'' White House press secretary Dana Perino said in a statement.

The initial request for Mexico is part of a program that will total 1.4 billion dollars. The Bush administration has also requested million for counternarcotics efforts in Central American countries.

The plan comes as the United States is struggling to compete with other powers in providing assistance and wielding influence in Latin America and elsewhere.

Bush and Mexican President Felipe Calderon have been hammering out the final details of the counternarcotics plan for several weeks. The Mexican foreign ministry said the two presidents spoke on the telephone today morning about the deal.

The Bush administration has been pleased by Mexico's recent efforts to combat the drug trade, including raids in northeastern Mexico. Calderon deployed 25,000 troops last December to back up police in fighting the cartels amid a surge in drug-related murders.

''Already, President Calderon's decisive actions have had a positive effect in the United States,'' Perino said. ''They have disrupted drug trafficker supply lines and have contributed to shortages in cocaine and methamphetamine supply across the nation.'' US officials have emphasized that no US troops will be sent to Mexico as part of the counternarcotics program, a sensitive issue in Mexico where many view a US military presence as a breach of sovereignty by their rich neighbor to the north.

The US funds will be used for equipment such as helicopters, surveillance aircraft and scanning equipment to combat narcotics trafficking. Some of the money will used for training and technical assistance for law enforcement agencies.

Luis Javier Algorri, Tijuana police chief, told reporters in Mexico the money will redesign the security program and bring results but, ''We need more intelligence, more investigative police work. Without that, no plan will work.'' Reuters AK VP0142

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