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US Calls Bolivian Drug Charges Absurd

The State Department Friday rejected as patently absurd a charge by Bolivian President Evo Morales that U.S. drug enforcement agents encouraged drug trafficking in Bolivia. Mr. Morales has given the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the DEA, three months to cease operations in the country. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

In another sign of frayed U.S.-Bolivian relations, the Bush administration has sharply rejected a charge by the country's leftist president of U.S. involvement in the local drug trade.

Mr. Morales, in comments Thursday defending his decision to expel the U.S. drug agency, said the DEA had instead of fighting drug trafficking actually encouraged it, and said he had ample evidence to back up the charge.

The Bolivian leader had earlier accused the DEA of encouraging anti-government unrest in Bolivia in September.

At a news briefing, State Department Deputy Spokesman Robert Wood dismissed the Morales charges as totally unfounded:

"The charges that have been made are just patently absurd. We reject them categorically," said Wood. "The United States has had good cooperation with the Bolivian government over 35 years with regard to counter-narcotics cooperation. Should the Bolivian government decided to sever its working relationship with us with regard to counter-narcotics, it's going to impact the Bolivian people," he said.

Wood said if the U.S. agency does leave Bolivia, the United States will look for other ways to counter the drug trade in the region.

President Bush last month suspended trade preferences for Bolivia after a State Department report said the Morales government had failed to fully cooperate with U.S.-led anti-drug efforts.

In September, President Morales expelled U.S. Ambassador Philip Goldberg over charges, similar to those made against the DEA, that the U.S. mission in La Paz was conspiring with the political opposition.