Angelica Condori was sterilized seven months ago by state doctors at her shantytown's health clinic and says she still gets stabbing pains in her stomach. The 25-year-old housewife now walks slightly bent over.

An illiterate housewife living in Huaycan, a community of straw and cardboard hovels east of Lima, Condori was pregnant with her third child but did not have the $50 needed to pay for a doctor and medicine.She says health officials offered her free medical services for the birth if she agreed to a tubal ligation. No one told her about alternative methods of contraception or that the operation was irreversible, she says.

Women's groups charge that thousands of poor women like Condori are being tricked or pressured into being surgically sterilized by state health officials as part of a campaign to control Peru's high birth rate.

"I agreed to be sterilized because it was the only way to get a doctor when I gave birth, and they were insistent that I should accept," she said.

Activists allege that the health ministry has set sterilization quotas for state doctors in poor areas and these doctors are taking advantage of the women's poverty and ignorance of contraception to meet the quotas.

The government denies that it is carrying out a campaign to sterilize the poor. It says the operations are done with the woman's consent as part of a family planning program that is badly needed if Peru is to develop and emerge from its poverty.

State doctors performed 110,000 sterilizations in 1997, which will result in 26,000 fewer births in 1998, Health Ministry officials say.

A just-completed study by Flora Tristan Women's Center, Peru's largest women's group, found that poor pregnant women are regularly offered free birth services in exchange for agreeing to tubal ligations.

"They often agree to be sterilized solely out of economic desperation," said Ivonne Macassi, Flora Tristan's director.

The study also found that many doctors deceive the women about the surgery's risks.