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New global markets worry drugs fighters

Reuters, 20 September 2006

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil - Traffickers are opening up new markets for cocaine and other narcotics across the globe along new shipping routes to traditional user countries, international anti-drugs officials said on Wednesday.

Latin American and West African nations are especially vulnerable, they said.

‘This is a phenomenon that worries us -- countries that in the past were only used by major trafficking organizations as repositories or safe havens are seeing a spill-over effect,’ said Stephen Brown of the Drugs Intelligence Unit of Interpol, the international police organization.

‘Drugs are not only moving through these countries but staying there.’

He was speaking at Interpol’s annual general meeting, which has brought together law enforcement officials from more than 150 countries in Rio de Janeiro -- a city whose teeming slums are ruled by drugs traffickers.

The flow of cocaine from Latin America to West Africa, where it is moved on to Europe or Asia or kept for domestic consumption, had soared in the past five years.

‘The levels have now reached multi-tonne shipments that are coming in regularly ,’ Brown said.

Ten huge Latin American-African cocaine shipments had been intercepted in the past five years, including a recent record seizure of 14.2 tonnes coming from Peru, said Muazu Umaru, chief superintendent of the Nigerian anti-narcotics agency.

‘We are not smiling because of that seizure -- we are much more concerned,’ Umaru said.

 New markets

In Latin America, a big cocaine shipment was seized two weeks ago in Uruguay, not previously regarded as a significant transit route or user country.

Suppliers in producer countries Colombia, Peru and Bolivia were now relying less on the Caribbean as a shipping route because of more effective policing, but they were increasingly aiming at markets in southern Latin America such as Chile, Brazil and Argentina.

‘Every country has the potential to be a trafficking country, then it’s only a matter of years before it develops into a user country,’ Brown said.

Thousands of gangs from many different countries were involved in the drugs trade, linking up to cover different areas of the smuggling operation, the officials said.

‘The international drug trafficking scene has graduated into a global drug trafficking alliance ... if Latin American crooks want to warehouse drugs in West Africa, they have to deal with the locals,’ Umaru said.

On the good news, anti-narcotics agencies reckoned they were seizing about 50 per cent of cocaine produced. On the other hand, cocaine abuse was spreading to India and China. And Mexican gangs were becoming more powerful.

There were ‘alarming signs’ of increased poppy growing and heroin production in Afghanistan, harming Iran, Pakistan and the Central Asian republics, Brown said. Ecstasy was now spreading from Europe to North America and Southeast Asia.

The problems of the drugs trade are evident in the host city itself, which suffers from endemic crime. The Interpol delegates are meeting in an army fort on a promontory off Copacabana Beach, guarded by a big security operation, but the slums in the hillsides behind the beach are ruled by drugs gangs, whose bloody battles for control of the local market often spill over into the city streets.