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UN: Guinea Bissau Air Traffic Controller Arrested on Drug Charges


A U.N. official reveals that recent drug arrests in Guinea Bissau are the result of a two-month-long investigation. The country's judicial police have arrested five people suspected to be involved with cocaine trafficking through the West African nation, including the head of air traffic control at the country's main airport. Ricci Shryock has more from Dakar.

Two months of investigation by the judiciary police in Guinea Bissau culminated last week with the arrest of five suspects.

Local forces also seized an airplane said to have contained 500 kilograms of cocaine.

The West African representative for the U.N. Office for Drugs and Crime, Antonio Mazzitelli, says this is part of an ongoing problem in the area.

"The operation that has been carried out this week does nothing more than confirm what we have been saying," said Antonio Mazzitelli. "What the government of Guinea Bissau and more and more governments in the region are saying-that the whole region is under attack by traffickers."

Mazzitelli says three of the men who were arrested are from Latin America. In recent years, West African countries have become a transit hub for shipping cocaine from Latin America to Europe.

Mazzitelli adds local forces are not equipped to combat the infusion of international drug traffickers. He says the international community needs to come to the area's aid.

Last month, the U.N. office secured two million euros from the European Union for this purpose. The money is part of a package worth around $5 million that the office has secured to help Guinea Bissau's forces fight drug trafficking. But only a fraction of the amount has been put to use.

"We have already delivered something in the range of $120,000 assistance," he said.

Mazzitelli says this money was used to send Guinea Bissau judicial staff to training in Brazil, as well as to provide generators, fuel and computers.

The $5 million, that were pledged in June, have not been received, though Mazitelli adds the papers have been signed and it is now a matter of transferring the money.

He says local forces, with the help of international aid, are increasing their abilities to fight drug trafficking.

"Certainly the situation is improving," said Mazzitelli. "We think, and based on the modus, the reaction by the judicial police in Guinea Bissau who are in other countries of the region, that we are gradually moving from a reactive stance, a passive one, which saw drugs just transiting West Africa according to national authorities to a much more proactive approach."

The United Nations has ranked Guinea Bissau as the third-poorest country in the world for human development.

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