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Money from Cannabis Trade is Financing West Africa Rebels, says UN - 2004-03-03

A U.N. report on drug trafficking says money from the illegal sale of cannabis is paying for arms used by rebels in destabilizing western Africa. The United Nations is worried about the growth of cannabis cultivation in the region.

In its annual report, the U.N. International Narcotics Control Board says cannabis bears a great deal of blame for violence and instability in West Africa.

The secretary of the U.N. drug agency, Herbert Schaepe, says exact figures are hard to find, but reports are mounting that cannabis trafficking in Ivory Coast, Liberia and Central African Republic is helping rebels to procure arms.

"We are quoting reports from Interpol and reports from regional organizations, which indicate that, at least in some countries again, of course only partly, but to a significant extent, arms and ammunition used by rebel groups and criminal organizations, which have been destabilizing the region may have been partly procured with the proceeds of illicit drug trafficking," Mr. Schaepe said.

He said that the trend among African farmers of shifting their crops from traditional food to cannabis is extremely worrying, because it promotes lawlessness and leads to food shortages throughout Africa.

According to Mr. Schaepe, the popularity of cannabis as a cash crop grew in Africa, as consumption of the drug increased in North America and Europe. Farmers, he said, have learned they can earn much more money growing cannabis than traditional food crops.

The United Nations, which has drug and crime offices in Senegal and Nigeria, says it is the responsibility of national governments in Africa to crack down on illegal drug trafficking.

Mr. Schaepe says Nigeria provides the largest drug trafficking trade routes in western Africa, even though it has taken stringent measures to combat the drug trade.

"We are not accusing Nigeria; we think on the contrary that, especially in recent years, Nigeria has taken quite a tough stand," he stressed. "It has introduced quite a number of effective measures, but it remains a fact that Nigeria is one of the biggest and most important countries on the continent. Lots of trade is going through Nigeria, to Nigeria and out of Nigeria. The more trade that is being developed, the more these trade routes are misused for drug trafficking."

Besides cannabis, cocaine shipped from Brazil and heroine from Asia pass through Nigeria before heading to North America and Europe. What worries the United Nations is that more of those drugs will stay in Africa, and drug abuse will become yet another burden on the governments.