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Argentina accuses US of trying to sneak in illegal drugs and arms

Washington demands Buenos Aires return confiscated military plane cargo

Diplomatic tension between the United States and Argentina flared over the weekend after officials in Buenos Aires detained a US air force plane and seized items that were to be used in a training exchange with the Argentinean federal police.

The Boeing C17 aircraft has returned to the United States empty and the training exercises between the US military experts and the local police slated for the next two months have been suspended.

Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman lodged a formal protest with the US Embassy saying that some of the materials that were being transported were suspicious and had not been included on the official list of equipment to be used in the training mission. In a statement, the Argentinean Foreign Ministry said there was "material camouflaged inside an official shipment from the United States."

"We are puzzled and disturbed by the actions of Argentina's officials"

"They can't just come and bring in what they like," said the Cabinet chief

Timerman demanded that US officials issue an apology and asked the Obama administration to cooperate with the ongoing investigation, the Buenos Aires daily La Nación reported on Tuesday.

For his part, Arturo Valenzuela, US undersecretary of state for Inter-American affairs, called Timerman to demand that Argentina return all of the materials that it confiscated.

"We are puzzled and disturbed by the actions of Argentine officials," said US State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley, who explained that the training was to focus on "advanced hostage rescue and crisis management techniques" and was part of ongoing cooperation with Argentina on citizen security.

But in Buenos Aires, Aníbal Fernández, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner's Cabinet chief, said that US officials were not being truthful about the cargo. "They can't just come and bring in what they like," said Fernández. The plane, which landed on Thursday at Ezeiza International Airport, was inspected by authorities who used a list to check all the items on board.

On Sunday, the newspaper Página 12 published a special in which one of the nation's most celebrated journalists, Horacio Verbitsky, explained that the plane was carrying "secret and sensitive" cargo. In one suitcase, narcotics and drugs, such as Epinephrine (adrenaline), morphine and hypnotic drugs and their antidotes were also found. Verbitsky also reported that authorities confiscated "various sophisticated and powerful GPS devices" and other equipment that could be used for intercepting communications.

In Washington, Crowley said that he had no information about the drugs reportedly found on board. "This kind of equipment is used in these kinds of exercises or would be used in joint operations. And we continue to call on the Argentinean government to return our equipment," he said.

Tensions between the two nations have grown in recent weeks, sparked by the release of WikiLeaks cables that show US officials detailing alleged corruption in the past government of the late Néstor Kirchner.