Costa Rica 'faces threat of drug gangs'

President Chinchilla speaks about the presence of Mexican gangs

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Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla says increased international help is vital to tackle the drug cartels operating in Central America.

President Chinchilla told BBC Mundo that Mexican gangs were present in her country, working with local cartels.

Ms Chinchilla was speaking during a visit to Mexico focused on boosting co-operation against organised crime.

Mexican gangs are increasingly using Central America as a transit route for South American cocaine.

President Chinchilla said that Costa Rica remained one of the safest countries in Latin America, but that in recent years insecurity had become a growing issue.

"It's a problem that will get out of hand if we don't confront it now," she told the BBC during an interview in Mexico City.

No army

Ms Chinchilla said every country had its own approach to tackling crime.

The army, she said, had played an important role in Mexico, where President Felipe Calderon has deployed some 50,000 troops to take on drug gangs.

"Our strategy in Costa Rica is more focused on the role of the judiciary, the police, prevention, and a free press that investigates with absolute independence," she added.

The president discounted any possibility that Costa Rica, which has no standing army, would create a military force if the security situation were to worsen.

"Costa Rica will never reconsider its decision to abolish the army... Rather the absence of an army has been a guarantee of security in the country," she said.

"But what we want is to supply our police force with better equipment, giving it a defensive, not an offensive, capacity."

Ms Chinchilla said that the crackdown in Mexico on drug gangs could result in "an even greater displacement [of traffickers] into Central America".

That was why the drug gangs needed to be confronted not just nationally, but regionally, she said.

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