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Bolivia to start receiving Russian-made helicopters in April

RIA Novosti

27/02/2009 12:15 MOSCOW, February 27 (RIA Novosti) - Russia is to deliver two helicopters to Bolivia at the beginning of April, Bolivia's anti-drug tsar has said, with reports suggesting that they will be used in the fight against the illicit drug business.

Sources earlier reported that Bolivia had expressed interest in buying a number of Russian-made Mi-17 multipurpose helicopters to combat terrorism and drug trafficking.

"As far as I know, two Russian helicopters will be shipped to Bolivia in the first weeks of April. They will be used to destroy cocaine plantations in the country," Felipe Caceres, deputy minister for social defense said on Thursday.

Last year, disputes with Washington over anti-narcotics efforts badly strained Bolivia's ties with the U.S. administration. La Paz expelled the U.S. ambassador in September and suspended U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration operations in the country.

Bolivia is currently the world's third largest producer of cocaine after Colombia and Peru, primarily supplying Europe and other markets in South America.

According to UN data, coca cultivation in Bolivia has grown to 27,000 hectares, while the government managed to eradicate more than 6,000 hectares of coca during 2007 alone.

Moscow has recently announced plans to supply a large number of helicopters to Bolivia as part of the expansion of its economic and military-technical ties with Latin American countries.

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