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Drug Trade Through West Africa Disrupts Local Societies

South American drug cartels are increasingly using unsecured West Africa as a transit point to get drugs to Europe and also back to the United States. But this route has a spillover effect in Africa, disrupting local economies and societies. From our West Africa bureau in Dakar, VOA's Nico Colombant, with reporting from Tatiana Mossot, reports about one such case in normally tranquil Benin.

A boat carrying dozens of cartons of cocaine recently capsized in these waters in the beachfront of Grand Popo, 90 kilometers from the capital Cotonou.

Police say two Ghanaian drug traffickers were killed by villagers, their bodies thrown in the water, while a third trafficker, a Guatemalan national, escaped by giving away money. But he left behind his passport.

Police say they recovered 400 kilograms of cocaine.

But some of the police were accused of stealing several cartons, creating divisions, suspicion and low morale in the community.

The incident also caused unease among villagers, afraid they would be arrested.

One fisherman says people saw what happened, but refuse to speak about it. Some of them, he says, have fled the region. He says they are afraid of police, as well as the traffickers.

At police headquarters in Cotonou, also is worried.

He says people are discovering the commercial value of illegal drugs. He says some cocaine being trafficked through West Africa now ends up on local markets, with new African traffickers, dealers, and even users creating a threat to stability in an impoverished environment.

Armado de Andres, who is with the United Nations' anti-narcotics office, says there are already little regional mafias cooperating with major South American and European cartels in smuggling drugs.

South American cocaine producers increasingly route shipments through West Africa on the way to Europe. The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime says traffickers are taking advantage of relatively short shipping distances - just a few days by sea from South America, and weak law enforcement and border control in impoverished African nations to move their drugs.

The U.N. reported late last year that authorities seized 33 tons of cocaine in West Africa since 2005. Before that, barely a single ton had ever been seized in the region. The U.N. estimates that about 40 tons of cocaine was shipped through West Africa on the way to Europe.

Villagers in this small community say they feel they are being made victims of a new wave of crime and trouble caused by people outside their continent.