Peru seeks more US help in counter-narcotics

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LIMA, Oct 6 (Reuters) US Defense Secretary Robert Gates talked to Peruvian officials on Friday about security assistance but did not raise the sensitive question of possibly moving US counter-narcotics operations to Peru from a base in Ecuador.

Peru, a top cocaine producer, asked for patrol boats and helicopters to combat drug and human trafficking along its rivers and coast. Peruvian officials also want to buy a landing ship for use in disaster response, according to a US defense official traveling with Gates.

A Peruvian defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Peru's military also needs weapons and training.

''The reality is, we need a lot of help,'' the Peruvian official said.

The United States provided Peru with more than 52 million dollars in security-related assistance in 2007. Most of that, about 45 million dollars, was for narcotics control efforts.

While Gates, President Alan Garcia and Defense Minister Allan Wagner talked about increased cooperation, they did not discuss whether Peru would allow the US military to fly counter-narcotics missions in South America from Peru, officials at the meetings said.

Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa, who took office in January, has refused to renew Washington's lease on the Manta air base and the Pentagon has been looking for alternative locations. The lease expires in 2009.

While US officials have said Peru and Colombia offered to discuss alternate locations, both governments publicly denied it. Hosting a US base is politically sensitive in Latin America and would likely face public opposition, officials say.

Gates earlier this week said the US military had just begun looking for new sites and that no proposals had been made to any country.

Gates and Wagner gave short statements to reporters after the Pentagon chief's meeting with the president. But neither took questions. Wagner was scheduled to talk to reporters but canceled after the final meeting.

''We've had a very intense conversation,'' Wagner said.

''These discussions with the president have given a new dimension to the substance of this cooperation.'' REUTERS SZ BST0902

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