- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 23, 2002

Peruvians call off U.S. military drill

LIMA, Peru The government of President Alejandro Toledo was rattled over the weekend by fallout from the abrupt cancellation of a joint U.S.-Peruvian military-training exercise in the Amazon jungle.

Foreign Minister Diego Garcia Sayan announced late Saturday that a military exercise involving U.S. forces that had been in planning for 14 months was being canceled because the U.S. troops would arrive armed.

The U.S. Embassy in Lima issued a communique stating that the exercise involving U.S. National Guard troops and Army Reserve health and engineering units that would help build schools and provide vaccinations in remote jungle towns would carry firearms only for personal protection. It said similar exercises had take place throughout Central America and the Caribbean, as well as in Ecuador and Bolivia.

Opposition lawmaker Javier Diez Canseco said on Friday that the event was a smoke screen for the U.S. military to build a base in the Amazon jungle something the embassy vehemently denied. But Mr. Garcia Sayan said the exercise was canceled when the government discovered on April 8 that the event involved more than 200 armed U.S. troops, as well as warplanes and warships.


Argentina announces state bank merger

BUENOS AIRES Argentina's government says it is sending legislation to Congress aimed at reorganizing the government-run banks, a move seen as an attempt to rescue the country's tottering financial system.

At a news conference Sunday, a spokesman for President Eduardo Duhalde said the government would send a bill to legislators creating the Banco Federal Nacional from a merger of the country's largest bank, Banco de La Nacion, and investment bank Banco de Inversion y Comercio Extranjero.

Spokesman Eduardo Amadeo said the government is also inviting all provincial and municipal banks to join the merger, including the government-run banks of Buenos Aires province and the city of Buenos Aires, two of the country's largest.


Colombian smuggles drug pellets in stomach

HONG KONG A Colombian man was arrested at Hong Kong International Airport over the weekend after he was found to have swallowed 99 pellets of cocaine weighing over three pounds, a customs spokeswoman said yesterday.

The 49-year-old, who arrived from the south Caribbean island of Curacao, via Amsterdam, was detained Saturday after a tip, she said. The concealed drugs were worth $308,090.

The man said he was paid $5,000 to smuggle the drugs into Hong Kong. He told customs officers it had taken him 10 hours to swallow the 99 pellets.


Weekly notes

Osama bin Laden stealing gasoline in Canada? Police in a Vancouver suburb are seeking a man who used the name of the Saudi-born militant to steal gasoline with a credit card last week. The suspect described as a Middle Eastern male in his mid-30s and 5 feet, 7 inches tall drove up in a Jaguar and used the card at a gasoline pump. It had a stolen account number and listed the owner's name as Osama bin Laden. Venezuela's state oil giant, PDVSA, should be the top weapon in the war against the poverty affecting most Venezuelans, OPEC's secretary-general and the new chief of PDVSA, Ali Rodriguez, told Globovision TV yesterday. Mr. Rodriguez, 65, was named by President Hugo Chavez to lead the oil firm on Saturday.

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