$460M COCAINE SEIZED IN WORLD'S BIGGEST DRUG BUST
Colombian authorities have seized $US350 million ($460 million) worth of cocaine stashed on a jungle riverbank by far-right paramilitary groups in what police called the biggest cocaine bust in history.
Police and navy personnel confiscated 13.8 tonnes of cocaine hidden on the banks of the River Mira, near the Pacific Ocean port of Tumaco in southern Colombia, in an operation that ended on Friday.
With a street value of about $US25,000 a kilogram in the US, where police think the drugs were headed, the cocaine would sell for a total of about $US350 million.
"This is the biggest haul ever seized in the world in a single operation, in a single day and in a single place," Colombia's national police chief General Jorge Castro said.
The drugs belonged to members of the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia, an outlawed far-right militia known by its Spanish initials AUC that has killed thousands of people in its brutal campaign against Marxist rebels, police said.
The seizure came just as the US Congress debates a request from the Bush Administration for $US600 million in aid money for Colombia's anti-cocaine effort.
Some congressmen have complained there is no evidence showing that the amount of cocaine on US streets has declined despite more than $US3 billion in assistance to Colombia since 2000.
In the Tumaco operation, armed agents made five arrests and seized nine assault rifles, communications equipment and eight boats.
Working with the US, Colombian authorities have significantly increased seizures in recent years, and last year they confiscated 148 tonnes of cocaine.
The lawlessness caused by a four-decade-long guerilla war has helped make Colombia the world's largest producer of the drug, with the US Government estimating the country's criminals produced about 430 tonnes in 2004. But this is down from about 700 tonnes in 2001, thanks to a US-backed program of spraying illegal coca crops.
Critics of the program point out that US street prices for cocaine have hardly budged over the period, indicating that as much as ever is probably flowing into the country.
The AUC and Marxist rebels both draw on cocaine money to buy weapons in a conflict that claims thousands of lives a year. While they are bloody rivals on the battlefield, the AUC often cooperates with the rebels in the drug trade.
Police believe the paramilitary groups probably bought the cocaine found last week from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.