Drug crops destroyed near Colombian border

Soldiers blew up two cocaine processing labs and yanked freshly discovered coca plants from the ground, tossing them into burning piles in the mountains near Venezuela's border with Colombia. The operation comes as Venezuela's military steps up a campaign to seek and destroy drug crops along a remote stretch of the border with Colombia.

Troops have destroyed 210 hectares (520 acres) of opium poppies, coca plants and marijuana located by using satellite images in the past several days, officials said Tuesday.

Soldiers burned crops in the Sierra de Perija mountains, about 400 miles (640 kilometers) west of Caracas. They also detained some 45 Colombians around the planted areas and deported them, Capt. Virgilio Lameda told reporters. One of those detained had been guarding the fields and hurled a grenade that injured a Venezuelan soldier, Brig. Gen. Gitamar Barrios Hernandez said, without elaborating, the AP reports.

Justice Minister Jesse Chacon flew in to the remote site by helicopter with reporters and criticized Colombia for not doing more to battle drug production, claiming satellite images suggested many sites remained on the Colombian side.

There has been extensive fumigation of drug crops on the Colombian side of the border, with pilots contracted by the U.S. government facing hazards as they fly low over steep mountains and jungles in rebel-controlled areas.

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe vowed to wipe out cocaine production, and in September the United Nations reported that the fumigation campaign had cut coca cultivation in Colombia by one-third in seven months.

Counterdrug officials say Venezuela serves as a corridor for large amounts of drugs, mostly Colombian cocaine, destined for the United States and Europe.

Chacon said Venezuela hopes to work with Spain and France to fight drug trafficking, but he didn't mention the United States, which has recently clashed with President Hugo Chavez's government on drugs. Chavez suspended cooperation with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in August, accusing its agents of spying. The next month, the U.S. government said Venezuela had failed to effectively fight drug trafficking and removed the country from a list of cooperating nations.

Officials have been holding talks to smooth over tensions and reach a new accord to govern DEA work in Venezuela.

Venezuelan officials said they obtained the satellite images showing possible drug sites through the Organization of American States. A.M.

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