Ecuador army seizes record 22 tons of cocaine

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QUITO, Jan 22 (Reuters) - A military operation in Ecuador uncovered a record 22 metric tons (22,000 kg) of cocaine, officials said on Monday, one of the country's biggest drug seizures two weeks into an "internal armed conflict" against organized crime.

The army said in a statement the drugs, distributed across 733 parcels, were likely intended for transport across Asia, Europe and the Americas. The operation followed six months of planning and surveillance, it added.

Ecuador's armed forces on Sunday shared videos on X showing huge stacks of plastic-wrapped parcels, some with labels showing the names of major airlines at a site in the central city of Vinces.

This comes as top U.S. officials are set to visit the country, seeking stronger ties on fighting crime amid a military crackdown against gangs launched by Ecuador's two month-old government which has seen more than 2,700 arrested in 13 days.

Ecuador's government blames powerful cocaine trafficking gangs for the growing violence, including a recent attack on a hospital, hostage-taking and the interruption of a live television broadcast by armed gunmen.

Sunday's seizure would exceed the 9.6 tons of cocaine discovered in 2021 behind a false wall in the coastal city of Guayaquil, intended for shipment to Mexico and the United States, which authorities said could fetch some $450 million.

(Reporting by Alexandra Valencia in Quito; Writing by Sarah Morland; Editing by Valentine Hilaire)

((sarah.morland@thomsonreuters.com;))

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