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Bolivia approves downing of drug-smuggling planes

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LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) — A new Bolivian law authorizes the country's military to shoot down planes suspected of smuggling cocaine, though it cannot yet be put into practice because it doesn't have sufficient radar coverage.

The law signed Tuesday by President Evo Morales requires that before starting the plan, Bolivia must first purchase and install radar systems, which its borders lack.

Bolivia is the world's No. 3 cocaine producer and has also become a key transit country for partially refined cocaine from Peru, which has the biggest coca crop.

Other countries in the region with similar shootdown policies include Brazil, Colombia, Honduras and Venezuela, all cocaine transit countries. Peru had a shootdown policy, but halted it.

Officials say about six drug flights a day enter Bolivia from Peru. After processing, finished cocaine is transported by land and air to Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina, police say. Much of it is destined for Europe.

Morales told reporters that Bolivia is talking to other countries about purchasing six radars worth a total of $90 million. He did not name the countries.

Paraguay and Argentina have no radar coverage of their borders with Bolivia. It could not immediately be determined whether Peru has working radar at its border. Peruvian officials said early this year that they were working to repair an aged radar system.

Peru halted its U.S.-based shootdown program after one of its warplanes shot at a small plane in 2001 carrying U.S. missionaries, killing a woman and her 7-month-old daughter.

In 2012, the U.S. stopped sharing radar with Honduras after it shot down two suspected drug planes in violation of agreements with Washington.

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Associated Press writer Frank Bajak in Lima, Peru, contributed to this report.

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