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Landmark Drug Trafficking Trial Set to Opens in Kenya

The trial of six out of eight suspects charged with drug trafficking opened in Nairobi Monday.

Two Italians and four Kenyans have been charged with drug trafficking following the largest cocaine bust in Kenya's history.

Last month, acting on a tip, police raided a Nairobi warehouse and a house in the coastal town of Malindi, seizing an estimated $65 million's worth of cocaine from Columbia and Venezuela on its way to European markets.

At the time of the seizure, Kenyan government spokesman Alfred Mutua had told VOA the drug bust underscored worries that the Kenyan government has had for some time about drug trafficking.

"The Kenyan government is very concerned that Kenya is becoming one of the countries that is being used as a conduit for drugs because of our efficient communications system," Mr. Mutua said.

Police spokesman Jaspher Ombati told VOA Monday's trial sends a strong message that Kenya cannot be used as a drug-trafficking point.

"At the end of the day, the type of punishment that will be handed down on the suspects will have a long-lasting impact that will make would-be drug traffickers think twice before deciding to use Kenya as a conduit," Mr. Ombati said. "It will also maybe send some strong signals that the Kenya police and other law enforcement agencies in the country and outside the country are keen on matters dealing with drugs."

There are two other suspects in the case, both Kenyan. One of them, George Kiragu, is facing drug-trafficking charges in the Netherlands.

Mr. Ombati said police believe Mr. Kiragu is the main person behind last month's drug trafficking. He said Kenyan officials traveled to Netherlands recently to interrogate Mr. Kiragu, and called for the suspect to be returned to Kenya.

Kenya is one of three African countries in which the United Nations' International Drug Control Program has offices.

The U.N. program says the Kenyan seaport of Mombasa and the capital Nairobi are the region's most important transit points and have been systematically exploited by drug traffickers. The country commonly acts as a bridge between Asian countries that produce the drugs and consumers in countries in the west.

According to the United Nations, the bulk of illicit drugs arrive in the region by sea, often concealed in container freights. Freighters stationed in international waters send out smaller boats to the coast to drop off, and pick up, the drugs.

Police spokesman Mr. Ombati said his officers have noticed what he called a "substantial amount of drugs" at entry and exit points, but did not specify the exact amount.