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West African Police Struggle to Slow Drug Trade


U.N. officials in Guinea Bissau say security forces there are working hard to fight drug trafficking. Other countries in the region, like Senegal and Ghana, are passing strict laws and holding high-profile cases against drug traffickers. But local journalists accuse authorities of sometimes participating in the drug trade, rather than stopping it. Naomi Schwarz has more from Dakar.

Experts say drug traffickers are increasingly using West Africa as a transit point to export cocaine from Latin America to Europe, taking advantage of west Africa's weak borders, ill-equipped police forces, and government corruption.

Sandra Vallé, of the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime, says Guinea-Bissau is particularly susceptible to drug traffickers because the police and government lack the resources to move against them.

"Nowadays when they arrest someone, they have to take a taxi to take him to the judicial police premises," she said.

Guinea-Bissau's geography makes enforcement even more difficult. There are hundreds of tiny, often uninhabited islands off the coast that provide easy access to the ocean.

UNODC's Vallé says Guinea-Bissau's government is working hard within its limits to fight the problem. She says, with help, it is still possible to turns things around.

"If we assist the judiciary police, if we assist the minister of justice to do their jobs properly, it will be a preventative measure, in the sense that it will not get worse," she said. "The state will get control of things."

But some local journalists have reported that many officials, including police, actually collude with the drug traffickers.

Ghanaian journalist Ruby Amable says this has been a problem in Ghana. "Most of the time you realize that as soon as there is a drug case in Ghana, there is a bigger brain behind it, and the police always seem to be, the security agencies seem to be linked to it," she said.

She says poverty, and the big money that can be made from drug trafficking are to blame. "In Ghana, our economy is not very strong. And people would like to live a life that would show that they are fine, they are okay. And so, the least opportunity they get, they will be involved," adds Ruby.

Authorities in Ghana and Guinea-Bissau have denied the accusations.

In nearby Senegal, police do not face such allegations and seem to have played a better role stopping the flow of drugs. They say they have seized more than 3,500 kilograms of drugs already this year.

Senegalese national police spokesman, Daouda Diop, says the country's enforcement efforts mean drug traffickers are wary of using Senegal as a transit point. He says that, as a result, drug traffic is decreasing.

Like many governments in the region, Senegal's national assembly is discussing tougher legislation against drug traffickers.

Diop says the legislature will double or triple judicial penalties for drug trafficking.

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