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By Gustavo Palencia

TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) - The second seizure of a coca plantation in Honduras within a year shows drug gangs are seeking to cut costs and turn the small Central American state into a producer rather than a transit hub for U.S.-bound cocaine, authorities said on Tuesday.

At the weekend, law enforcement agents raided a 28.5 hectare (70.4 acre) plantation in Gualaco, a mountainous region about 230 kilometres (143 miles) east of the capital, Tegucigalpa, near the site of a smaller coca plantation discovered last April.

"This plantation was in full production and there were signs of previous harvests, although not that it had been processed until cocaine was produced," Carlos Morazan, a spokesman for the Honduran attorney general's office, told Reuters on Tuesday.

Traffickers were likely experimenting to save on the costs of shipping the drug from Venezuela and Colombia, he added.

Troubled, crime-ridden Honduras has for years served as a key transit point for cocaine moving to the United States from South America, where the vast majority of the coca plant used to produce the drug is grown.

In 2014, the Honduran government authorized the used of military force against flights suspected of transporting drugs.

Spiralling violence from drug gangs, political unrest and economic malaise has led to an exodus of Hondurans to Mexico, the United States and elsewhere in recent years.

(Reporting by Gustavo Palencia, Editing by Delphine Schrank and Rosalba O'Brien)

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Reuters