Bolivia Coca Ambush Leaves 4 Security Force Members Dead

LA PAZ , BOLIVIA - A weekend ambush
and hostage -taking involving police and
Bolivian coca growers has left four
people dead, officials said Monday.
Two members of a military and police
team working to eradicate coca crops
died in a firefight Saturday .
Eight hostages were taken, and two were
found dead on Monday. The other six
hostages were rescued or escaped , and
some were wounded.
A total of 14 people were wounded in the
fighting , said Interior Minister Carlos
Romero.
He said the coca growers were linked to
drug traffickers, reportedly with foreign
connections.
The fighting happened in the Apolo
region , 410 kilometers (250 miles ) north
of the capital La Paz .
The combined police and military unit of
about 170 officers is dedicated to
manually eradicating illegal coca crops.
But growers complain they often resort
to gunfire or beating those who stand in
their way.
About 750 growers oppose eradication in
the Apolo region , at the gateway to the
Amazon , while the government says that
their crops are illegal .
Bolivia is home to 25,300 hectares
(62,500 acres ) of coca crops, according
to the United Nations . Of those crops ,
only about 12 ,000 hectares are for legal
uses like leaves for chewing and making
coca tea.
Legal coca plantations in the Apolo area
must not exceed 280 hectares , although
there are no precise figures on the extent
of illegal crops .
Over the weekend , coca growers ' leader
Hernan Salas contested the official
version of events , saying the military had
" destroyed every house , gassed children,
the elderly, and there was a violent
confrontation."
He denied his group was responsible for
killing and wounding security forces.