January 26, 2008 / 1:46 AM / 11 years ago

Fear grows with violence in Peru's cocaine trade

By Maria Luisa Palomino

LIMA, Jan 25 (Reuters) - Prosecutors in Peru, fearing a surge in drug violence in the world’s second largest cocaine producer, are demanding special police protection for judges, lawyers and witnesses in narcotics trials.

Several recent drug-related slayings have startled Peruvians, and a prominent government prosecutor, Luz Loayza, became the latest judicial authority to say she had received death threats while investigating drug gangs and feared for her life.

"Many good judges and prosecutors are involved in this ... and deserve to be protected to make sure that justice is served," Sonia Medina, a drug prosecutor, said on Friday.

Earlier this week, six members of a family who worked to eradicate coca plantations were shot and butchered by suspects believed to be coca farmers. Another man, linked to a high-profile trafficking ring run by an airline executive, was shot to death on Wednesday while heading to a courtroom in downtown Lima.

"Judges and witnesses should get more protection," Justice Minister Rosario Fernandez said on Friday. "We have to do something before there are more attacks."

A former government official urged the government to take quick action or risk allowing drug violence in Peru to become as widespread as in Mexico or Colombia.

"Violence and corruption are growing here very quickly ... and I think this will continue," Fernando Rospigliosi, a former interior minister, told Reuters.

Attacks against police have risen in coca-growing regions near the Amazon jungle, where isolated members of the Shining Path guerrilla group started running drugs after the government defeated their insurgency in the early 1990s.

Since President Alan Garcia took office in July 2006, at least 14 anti-narcotics workers have been killed, apparently to protest government drug raids.

"Clearly, we are a country that produces drugs ... but we are not like Mexico and Colombia," said Miguel Hidalgo, director of anti-drug operations with the Peruvian police.

In Mexico, more than 2,500 people were killed last year in connection with the government’s efforts to stamp out the drug trade and huge organizations like the Sinaloa cartel, which analysts say is active in Peru. (Reporting by Maria Luisa Palomino; Writing by Dana Ford; Editing by Terry Wade and Peter Cooney)



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