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Latin American Drug Cartels Move into West Africa

The United Nations says South American drug cartels have started to use West Africa as a major transit point for cocaine, which is then shipped to mainly European markets. The agency is worried drug abuse and also crime is on the increase in the region.

The head of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime in West Africa, Antonio Mazzitelli says Latin American drug cartels are setting up business in West Africa, attracted by the lax policing of crime in the region.

"West Africa clearly represents a privileged location both for geographical reasons and, also I would say, for strategic reasons in terms of protection or impunity that cartels might secure," said Mr. Mazzitelli.

Drug cartels run a greater risk of having their shipments confiscated if they ship drugs directly to Western Europe from Latin America. Mr. Mazzitelli says cartels have been operating in West Africa for several years, using it as a point to transfer drugs to different ships. About 40 tons of cocaine has been seized from ships coming mainly from West African countries.

Mr. Mazzitelli says that the agency is concerned that the increased presence of drug cartels in the region will increase drug abuse in the region.

"Some drugs trafficked remain in the transit countries and then is used for feeding a growing domestic market," he added. "Several countries in West Africa have reported increased abuse of crack cocaine."

Cape Verde, Liberia, and Sierra Leone have reported an increased use of crack cocaine in the past few years. Heroin from South Asia has not started to come into West Africa, but Mr. Mazzitelli does not rule it out as a future possibility.

The U.N. Office for Drugs and Crime is training doctors and other medical personnel to treat drug addicts, as there is no understanding of addiction as a disease in the region. In many cases, drug addicts are kept in psychiatric institutions.