Ecuador anti-drug trafficking radar hit by explosion

QUITO, Ecuador (AFP) — A plane-spotting radar Ecuador started operating two weeks ago to curtail drug trafficking was hit by a non-deadly explosion Sunday, according to authorities who said a “terrorist” attack could not be ruled out.

The country’s defense ministry said there were no casualties from the blast that knocked out the military radar, which had been installed in the west coast town of Montecristi.

“For the moment, a possible terrorist attack cannot be ruled out,” the ministry said.

Nestled between the world’s largest cocaine producers, Colombia and Peru, Ecuador has seen a surge of violence blamed on fighting between rival drug gangs.

The country of 17.7 million people went from being a transit country to a drug warehouse and is favored by traffickers because of its porous borders, a dollarized economy and major seaports for export.

Seizures of drugs, mainly cocaine, reached a record of 155 tons between January and October 2021, while street crime and warring between gang-aligned prisoners has left more than 2,000 dead so far this year.

Last month, President Guillermo Lasso decreed a state of emergency to deal with the drug violence, mobilizing the military to back up police patrols and searches.

Presidency spokesman Carlos Jijon said the government would do all in its power “to buy or replace the radar immediately, in its conviction that the fight against drug trafficking is essential for the interests of the country.”

The country is planning to erect another radar in the southwest, and Lasso has said he would propose a bill allowing the military to shoot down aircraft not complying with orders to land.

© Agence France-Presse