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Wednesday, July 28, 1999 Published at 21:27 GMT 22:27 UK

World: Americas

Missing US plane found

Colombia is supported by the US in its anti-drugs fight

The wreckage of a United States military plane with seven people on board, which was lost last week over rebel territory in Colombia, has been found.

There are no survivors.

The US soldiers on board were based at Fort Bliss army base in El Paso, Texas.

The Americans are the first US military personnel killed while fighting against the illegal drugs industry in Colombia, the world's No. 1 cocaine-producing nation.

[ image: FARC rebels control the area where US plane crashed]
FARC rebels control the area where US plane crashed
Patrols reached the site of the crash late on Tuesday, having been hampered by the terrain and poor weather.

The four-engine de Havilland was carrying five US military personnel and two Colombian Air Force officials on a routine anti-narcotics mission last Friday when it crashed into a mountain in southern Colombia.

The plane was broken into many small pieces and scattered over a wide area near the south-western border with Ecuador.

US Embassy spokesman Bob Schmidt said the bodies would be flown to Bogota, where forensic experts would try to identify them.


Jeremy McDermott in Bogota: Searchers found seven bodies in the wreckage
The US Army uses planes with eavesdropping equipment to gather information on drug traffickers' movements and to photograph plantations where drug crops are grown.

On Friday, the plane had been circling over rebel-held territory in Putumayo State, which in recent years has seen an explosion in the cultivation of coca - the raw material of cocaine.

The state is also a stronghold of the rebel Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which earns huge profits from the drug trade.

[ image: Gen McCaffrey favours increasing US military aid]
Gen McCaffrey favours increasing US military aid
The top anti-drug official in the US, Barry McCaffrey, flew to Colombia after the reconnaissance plane crashed. He was expected to fulfil a planned review of a 1,500-strong anti-narcotics brigade being trained and equipped by the US.

The BBC Correspondent in Bogota, Jeremy McDermott, says the US has pledged further support for the Colombian anti-drug war as the country's rebels were now deeply involved in the drug trade, blurring the line between the struggle against drugs and the war against the guerrillas.

Colombia produces about 80% of the world's cocaine and an increasing amount of heroin. The US is the biggest market for both drugs.

The US supports the peace talks between President Andres Pastrana's government and the leftist rebels of FARC.

But the peace process recently collapsed and the government is now talking of a military solution to the guerrilla problem.

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