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June 23, 2004 - BBC News (UK Web)

Brazil To Shoot Down Drugs Planes

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Brazil is close to adopting a plan to shoot down aircraft suspected of carrying narcotics over the Amazon jungle, the government has said.

Colombia and Peru called a halt to the controversial practice in 2001 after the Peruvian air force mistakenly shot down a plane carrying missionaries.

But experts say cocaine smugglers are violating Brazilian airspace to reach regional cities and markets abroad.

Brasilia and Washington may share information to combat drug trafficking.

Series of Safeguards

"It is the kind of measure one hopes never to have to enforce," said Defence Minister Jose Viegas, according to the O Globo news website.

He said Brazil was in the "final phase" of enacting the law, which includes a series of measures that hostile planes would have to ignore before authorities could open fire.

They include failure to respond to communications, commands to land, or warning shots.

"In the event of a systematic and successive refusal to comply with these eight or nine procedures, while flying outside standard commercial routes and far from populated areas, the aircraft would be considered hostile and it will be shot down," said Mr Viegas.

He said he hoped the decree enacting the law - approved in outline by Congress in 1998 - would be signed by the president by the end of the month.

Mid-air Provocation

Officials have complained that traffickers constantly fly drugs into Brazilian airspace from Peru and Colombia.

Last year, the Brazilian air force videotaped the pilot of a suspected drug plane in mid-air making obscene and provocative gestures, complacent in the knowledge he could not be shot down, reported the Financial Times newspaper.

Brazil's cities are plagued by violence, fuelled by a booming trade in cheap smuggled cocaine. Brazil, though not a large drug producer itself, is also a major transhipment point for cocaine headed mostly to Europe.

Brazilian officials have been negotiating the terms of the law with Washington with an eye to agreeing an information-sharing deal to track suspected planes.

Washington is cautious of endorsing such laws without stringent safeguards, after it received a share of the blame for the 2001 accident in Peru, in which a missionary and her infant child were killed.

Colombia resumed shooting down suspected drug trafficking planes in 2003 and has shot down almost a dozen planes this year alone with intelligence assistance from Washington, AP news agency reported.

Peru is seeking to restart the policy.

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