In Benin, 14 police officers, including the country's top drug control officer, have appeared in court; accused of stealing cocaine from a recent seizure.  Their trial opened just days after the national police director was dismissed.  Phuong Tran has a report from VOA's West Africa Bureau in Dakar.

This is the first trial from an investigation into the country's largest cocaine seizure to date.  Two months ago, officials reported seizing more than 350 kilograms of cocaine on a beach outside the capital, Cotonou.

Further investigation revealed there may have been more cocaine than reported.

Officials arrested a high-ranking police officer Apollinaire Akuete, as well as Roger Talon, the country's top anti-drug officer, accusing them of hiding stolen drugs with the help of 12 officers.

A few days ago Benin's national police director, Antoine Azonhoume, was dismissed without formal charges.  He has faced criticism for granting early bail to the accused drug control official, Talon.

Azonhoume and two other police officials are witnesses in the trial. 

The director of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime in West Africa, Antonio Mazzitelli, says Africa's weak legal system, low-paid officials, and poor border control attract smugglers trying to slip drugs into Europe.

He says Benin is one of many West African transit points for drug trafficking. 

"All the region has been flooded with drugs," he said.  "Over 100-kilogram seizures have been reported all over the region, starting from Benin up to Mauritania, including countries that are far from the coast, so the normal routes.  There is a large band of the Sahelian desert that escapes the control of national authorities."

Mazzitelli says the smuggling routes run through regions plagued by instability and poverty.

According to U.N. drug officials, cocaine seizures in West Africa increased sevenfold between 2005 and 2006, from two tons to 14 tons.

In recent months, Benin, Senegal and Mauritania recorded their largest seizures to date, reporting a combined seizure of three tons of cocaine.