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Trinidad : Government to purchase four helicopters for war against drugs

By Exilus Deceyon

Port of Spain, 6 Jan. 06 [AlterPresse] --- Government is purchasing four armed helicopters specifically to launch an aerial assault on the drug and arms trades, which are at the heart of crime in T&T, says Prime Minister Patrick Manning.

Manning insists, though, they will not be military aircraft and will be used to deal with existing weaknesses in T&T’s drug interdiction capability.

Manning made the disclosure as he addressed the crime issue during yesterday’s post-Cabinet news conference-first for the year-at White Hall in Port-of-Spain.

On Saturday, the press had reported exclusively that Cabinet had decided to purchase helicopters with attack capabilities from Israel during an extraordinary meeting held on Friday.

Since that report, there has been much national speculation about the need for such aircraft, since many perceived they would be used for some military application.

In his 2006 Budget presentation last September, Manning said the Government would acquire four armed helicopters, but did not say exactly what they would be used for.

Yesterday, Manning said the armed helicopters would be used in conjunction with six fast patrol boats, since the first of three larger offshore patrol vessels the Government purchased would not arrive here for almost another two years.

“We have also taken the decision, in the light of the fact that a lot of the boats that are operating in the waters of the Gulf of Paria are very fast boats-boats that are involved in the drug trade-to treat with this matter not just on the surface, but also from the air,” Manning said.

“We have agreed to buy four armed helicopters for that purpose, and the helicopters, incidentally, are armed and not armoured.”

Manning said he made the distinction because earlier this week, one journalist was “advancing the view that the Government was about to purchase the A864 Apache Helicopter.”

“That is not so. That (Apache) is a military helicopter that costs about US$60 million,” Manning said.

“What we propose to purchase will cost less than one-tenth of that. It’s a different situation. We are buying civilian helicopters that will be equipped with guns for the purpose of drug interdiction from the air against boats that travel at very high speeds.”

Manning also said the Government’s much-touted 360- degree radar system was fully operational and gave a comprehensive coverage of the nation’s coastlines.

He noted, however, that while the Government had “a much better picture of the drug transit through T&T,” capturing the drugs and the drug-traffickers remained a major challenge.

“The facilities for proper interdiction...We are not as well equipped now as we intend to be in the very near future,” he said. [ed gp apr 06/01/2006 13:30]