World News

Peru army chief denies U.S. cable about drug links

LIMA (Reuters) - The head of Peru’s army on Monday denied having links to the cocaine trade in the world’s top coca producer after a U.S. Embassy cable said high-level corruption could be hurting President Alan Garcia’s drug war.

The cable, which was released by WikiLeaks and published on Saturday by Spain’s El Pais newspaper, says Gen. Paul da Silva met in 2007 with Rolando Velasco, a fishing industry executive later arrested for trying to export 840 kg (1,852 pounds) of cocaine hidden in frozen fish.

The 2009 cable indicated they met to possibly coordinate drug shipments.

Da Silva, who was a regional commander at the time, told reporters on Monday the meeting was held to taste a dish made with squid and talk about a contract to supply calamari to the army. He said several other military officials attended.

“This cable is defamatory and is aimed at damaging the honour of the armed forces,” Da Silva said. “I can’t close doors to people who want to meet with me. I didn’t know at the time that this Mr. Velasco was implicated in drug trafficking.”

Da Silva blamed Michael McKinley, the former U.S. ambassador to Peru, for writing the “irresponsible” memo and threatened to file a lawsuit against him.

The U.S. Embassy in Lima did not comment on the cable, part of more than 250,000 U.S. diplomatic documents WikiLeaks began publishing last month through media outlets and various websites.

Garcia has stepped up Peru’s drug war in the last two years to root remaining Maoist Shining Path rebels who began trafficking after their leaders were captured in the 1990s.

The rebels are active in the Alto Huallaga jungle and the Ene and Apurimac River Valleys, where coca planting is rife.

The United Nations said this year that Peru had overtaken Colombia as the world’s leading producer of coca leaf used to make cocaine.

Reporting by Terry Wade and Patricia Velez; Editing by Doina Chiacu