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By Mica Rosenberg

Written by: Staff
|

TAJUMULCO, Guatemala, Sep 3 (Reuters) Hundreds of police have fanned out across western Guatemala in a major sweep to destroy poppy plants used to make heroin, but law enforcement officials doubt the long-term success of the anti-drug drive.

Eight hundred agents supported by 200 soldiers are carrying out a two-week operation to eradicate poppy fields and arrest middlemen in the region's drug trade.

To support the effort the president signed an order for five towns in the far western region of San Marcos that bars residents from carrying arms or holding meetings without a permit and expands officials' rights to conduct searches.

The area has become a major shipment point for drugs because of its long coastline near cocaine-producing Colombia and its border with Mexico.

But poor peasants with few alternatives to growing drugs are likely to soon replant the illegal crop.

San Marcos' mountainous terrain is ideal for planting poppies, with most roads in the area inaccessible by car. A thick, afternoon fog that blankets the canyons between the Tacana and Tajumulco volcanoes makes it difficult for army helicopters to monitor the area.

''Every year there are increases in the number of poppy plants,'' said police inspector Hirvin Coloch, hiking down a steep mountainside to rip up small plots of red flowers planted behind mud-brick houses.

''In five or six days, after we leave here they will replant what we've cut down plus a little more,'' he said.

Human rights advocates worried about the constitutional rights denied by the presidential order say the operation is a show to ensure the US government will re-certify Guatemala as an effective partner in the fight against drugs this month.

The Central American nation's reputation was hurt last year when its top anti-drugs official Adan Castillo and close aides were arrested in the United States on drug smuggling charges.

WON'T STOP PLANTING In the five towns where the police are carrying out their operations, 87 per cent of the population lives on less than TAJUMULCO, Guatemala, Sep 3 (Reuters) Hundreds of police have fanned out across western Guatemala in a major sweep to destroy poppy plants used to make heroin, but law enforcement officials doubt the long-term success of the anti-drug drive.

Eight hundred agents supported by 200 soldiers are carrying out a two-week operation to eradicate poppy fields and arrest middlemen in the region's drug trade.

To support the effort the president signed an order for five towns in the far western region of San Marcos that bars residents from carrying arms or holding meetings without a permit and expands officials' rights to conduct searches.

The area has become a major shipment point for drugs because of its long coastline near cocaine-producing Colombia and its border with Mexico.

But poor peasants with few alternatives to growing drugs are likely to soon replant the illegal crop.

San Marcos' mountainous terrain is ideal for planting poppies, with most roads in the area inaccessible by car. A thick, afternoon fog that blankets the canyons between the Tacana and Tajumulco volcanoes makes it difficult for army helicopters to monitor the area.

''Every year there are increases in the number of poppy plants,'' said police inspector Hirvin Coloch, hiking down a steep mountainside to rip up small plots of red flowers planted behind mud-brick houses.

''In five or six days, after we leave here they will replant what we've cut down plus a little more,'' he said.

Human rights advocates worried about the constitutional rights denied by the presidential order say the operation is a show to ensure the US government will re-certify Guatemala as an effective partner in the fight against drugs this month.

The Central American nation's reputation was hurt last year when its top anti-drugs official Adan Castillo and close aides were arrested in the United States on drug smuggling charges.

WON'T STOP PLANTING In the five towns where the police are carrying out their operations, 87 per cent of the population lives on less than $2 per day, according to the governor of San Marcos.

A farmer with about 40 square metres of land earns just over $500 in a year growing corn, beans or potatoes. That same farmer could earn nearly $7,000 from a poppy crop.

Mexican cartels brought the poppy seeds to local residents over a decade ago. Paste from their flowers is processed into heroin in labs across the border.

''There is no way we can ensure that people won't keep planting,'' national director of police Erwin Sperisen told Reuters. ''As long as there are markets with consumers are willing to pay what they do for these drugs there will always be someone to fill the demand.'' REUTERS AB HT2357 per day, according to the governor of San Marcos.

A farmer with about 40 square metres of land earns just over 0 in a year growing corn, beans or potatoes. That same farmer could earn nearly ,000 from a poppy crop.

Mexican cartels brought the poppy seeds to local residents over a decade ago. Paste from their flowers is processed into heroin in labs across the border.

''There is no way we can ensure that people won't keep planting,'' national director of police Erwin Sperisen told Reuters. ''As long as there are markets with consumers are willing to pay what they do for these drugs there will always be someone to fill the demand.'' REUTERS AB HT2357

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