Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Drugs, not just Guinea-Bissau’s problem anymore

From ISN Security Watch

With security tight in other global cocaine-trafficking routes, West Africa has become a major transit point for cocaine from South America destined for Europe. Officials of the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crimes (UNODC) and regional law enforcement authorities are concerned that the traffickers are not only fuelling corruption and social vice, but also threatening regional security.

"We've noticed increased figures of cocaine trafficking in the region," Bagmar Thomas, a senior official of UNODC in West Africa, told ISN Security Watch. "We're seeing patterns where countries that didn't figure before are becoming involved."

From 1998 to 2003, annual cocaine seizures in Africa averaged 0.6 metric tonnes a year, a tiny proportion of global seizures, according to a UNODC document on cocaine trafficking published in October 2007. However, the figures have been rising steadily since then, increasing five-fold by 2006.

Data collected for the first nine months of 2007 indicated a significant jump to a record 5.7 metric tonnes of cocaine seized in the region, with a street value of nearly US$500 million. Out of this figure, 99 percent came from West Africa, comprising seizures in Senegal, Mauritania, Guinea Bissau, Cape Verde and Benin.

"And this is probably only the tip of the iceberg because the lack of seizure reports from neighboring western African countries does not necessarily mean the absence of trafficking in these countries, but more likely the deficiency of law enforcement capacities," concludes the UNODC report.

For those interested in more details, here’s how they do it.

The drugs are either flown in small planes to West Africa and are known to have landed in Guinea Bissau and Mauritania. Larger quantities are put in ships that sail into West African waters where they are met by smaller vessels that receive the drugs and move them inland through porous shores.

Once in West Africa the drugs have to take either one of two routes into Europe. Those landing in places like Cape Verde, Senegal and Mauritania follow traditional hashish smuggling routes, using fast boats to move north of Morocco into Europe. Other traffickers use couriers who ingest or conceal the drugs in their luggage, using commercial flights to take them into Europe.

The use of commercial flights for trafficking is identified by the UNODC report as the mainstay of Nigerian drug gangs. Often many drug couriers are put on the same flights as a deliberate tactic to swamp and overwhelm law enforcement officials at the airports.

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