A Drug Enforcement Administration agent was wounded in Bolivia during a firefight this week when a joint U.S.-Bolivian anti-narcotics patrol was ambushed by heavily armed drug traffickers, U.S. officials said yesterday. At least one drug trafficker was reported killed.

After the shootout, the drug traffickers retreated to a nearby village where they used about 100 peasants as "human shields" before escaping into the jungle, a U.S. official said.

The group of about 25 to 30 drug traffickers is thought to be part of a network headed by Carmelo Dominguez, identified by a U.S. official as one of the largest traffickers in the landlocked South American nation. Dominguez was arrested by Bolivian police in the provincial capital of Santa Cruz yesterday and his trafficking organization has been "taken down," the official said.

The wounded DEA agent was Hawthorne Hope, 35, a special agent from Detroit serving as an adviser to Bolivian anti-narcotics police. He was shot in his left forearm and left ankle and transferred to a U.S. military hospital in Panama. "He is in good condition and expected to recover fully," said DEA spokesman Frank Shults. The identity of the dead drug trafficker was not disclosed.

The incident marked the first time a U.S. drug agent has been hit by hostile fire during DEA's Operation Snowcap, a controversial three-year-old program in which U.S. agents serve alongside anti-narcotics police in Bolivia and Peru. About 40 to 50 agents are serving in the coca-growing jungles of those two countries on a rotating basis, helping local forces to blow up airstrips, attack drug laboratories and pursue other trafficker strongholds.

The shootout "reflects a significant increase in cocaine production and trafficking activity that has taken place place in Bolivia over the past year," said U.S. Ambassador Robert Gelbard in a telephone interview. "We've assumed all along {that} the more effective we become, the more violent reaction we're going to face."

In the operation this week, the Bolivian police team -- assisted by a handful of DEA agents, including Hope -- had been dispatched to the Chapare jungle region to watch an airstrip suspected of being used by the coca paste buying arm of Dominguez's organization. As the team reached the airstrip, it was attacked by traffickers with semiautomatic weapons. The fire fight ensued, and the traffickers fled to the small village where they rounded up residents, forcing the pursuing agents to hold their fire, a U.S. official said.