January 20, 2016 / 12:20 AM / 2 years ago

Argentina, citing emergency, authorizes force against drug flights

Members of Argentina’s Gendarmerie, which took control of security in parts of Rosario city last year after a spike in violence in drug-infested neighborhoods, patrol the Villa Banana slum in Rosario, Argentina, September 10, 2015.Enrique Marcarian

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Argentina decreed measures on Tuesday designed to help fight drug trafficking, vowing to crack down on smugglers using the country as a transshipment point for Bolivian and Peruvian cocaine destined for the lucrative markets of Europe.

Declaring a nationwide public security emergency, the country's new president said the army would be allowed to "identify, warn, intimidate and use force" against drug flights.

"The resolution includes strong control of air space," said a statement from Mauricio Macri, who won the presidency in November promising to straighten out Argentina's troubled economy and step up anti-narcotics efforts after what he called years of inaction by his predecessor, Cristina Fernandez.

The measure overhauls Argentina's border security network, promising efficient coordination of customs and law enforcement.

It came days after the end of a two-week manhunt for three criminals convicted of drug-related killings, whose escape from prison gripped the country and pointed to corruption in the security forces.

Argentina is a major soy, wheat and corn exporter. International drug enforcement officials have called the country's main grains port city, Rosario, the "Tijuana of Argentina," comparing it to the Mexican border city used to move cocaine into the United States.

Experts say drugs enter Argentina from Andean cocaine-producing countries to the north. Smuggling routes narrow the closer the shipments get to Rosario, increasing violence among gangs that want to control the final steps toward the shipping lanes of the South Atlantic.

Reporting by Hugh Bronstein; Additional reporting by Juliana Castilla; Editing by Peter Cooney

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