Panama creates anti-narco force as drug seizures rise

Seized packages of cocaine are displayed during a press conference by the National Border Service and National Police in Panama City, on May 30, 2016

Panama's president on Friday presented a new elite counternarcotics police unit to combat smuggling of increased cocaine production in neighboring Colombia.

The Eagle force, as it is called, consists of 300 officers with access to intelligence.

They are tasked with cracking down on drug-related criminal activity in Panama City and the major Atlantic coast city of Colon, each located at either entrance to the Panama Canal.

"Unfortunately, in the cities of Panama and Colon there are powerful narco gangs operating," President Juan Carlos Varela said.

The flow of drugs coming from Colombia, with much headed for the United States, has created a spike in violence as Panama's 150 gangs compete for turf and smuggling routes, he said.

Last year, the Central American country recorded 388 murders, many linked to the gangs, and the seizure of a record 72 tonnes of drugs.