Africa's Sahel rebels use drug trade to fund operations: UN
UNITED NATIONS — A top UN official sounded the alarm Tuesday about "terrorists and anti-government forces" in Africa's Sahel belt increasingly using revenues from drug trafficking to fund their operations.
Antonio Maria Costa, head of the Vienna-based United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) told the UN Security Council that "two streams of illicit drugs -- heroin in east Africa and cocaine in west Africa -- were now meeting in the Sahara, creating new trafficking routes across Chad, Niger and Mali."
"Like the Andeans and in west Asia, terrorists and anti-government forces in the Sahel extract resources from the drug trade to fund their operations, purchase equipment and pay foot-soldiers," he added during a debate on drug trafficking as a threat to international peace and security.
The UNODC chief warned that drug trafficking in the Sahel region, which stretches across the northern part of the African continent, was now "larger in size, faster at delivery and more high-tech," as evidenced by the November crash in insurgency-hit northern Mali of a Boeing plane used to transport cocaine from Venezuela to West Africa.
"It is scary that this new example of the links between drugs, crime and terrorism was discovered by chance," he noted.
In recent years west Africa has become an important transit point for South American cocaine being smuggled to the European markets.
In September, army representatives from Algeria, Mali, Mauritania and Niger -- four countries bordering the Sahara desert -- worked out a plan for jointly tackling terrorism and cross-border crime.
Algeria shares a border with the three other countries and its security forces are under pressure from attacks by Islamist militants who claim to belong to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQMI).
The Sahel region has also been the scene of trafficking and smuggling of all kinds by organized crime groups.
Maria Costa stressed that no state could handle this transnational threat on its own and urged creation of a "Trans-Saharan Crime Monitoring Network" that could act as an early warning scheme to help review cases that warrant careful investigations.
He also painted a grim picture of the drug threat facing other parts of the African continent, including trafficking, production and consumption.
He noted that 50 to 60 tons of cocaine are trafficked every year across west Africa, particularly Guinea-Bissau while seven laboratories were recently discovered in Guinea, suggesting that the region was also emerging as a producer of synthetic drugs and crystal cocaine.
And 30 to 35 tons of Afghan heroin are being trafficked into east Africa every year, fueling a dramatic rise in heroin injection, the UNODC boss said.
Meanwhile the 15-member Security Council adopted a non-binding statement expressing growing concern about "the increasing link, in some cases between drug trafficking and the financing of terrorism."
It stressed the importance of "strengthening transregional and international cooperation ...in support of relevant national, sub-regional and regional organizations and mechanisms."
UN chief Ban Ki-moon for his part told the council that drug trafficking also threatened to reverse advances in UN peacebuilding efforts in Afghanistan, Haiti, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Sierra Leone and elsewhere.
"States must share intelligence, carry out joint operations, build capacity and provide mutual legal assistance," he added. "So far cooperation between governments is lagging behind cooperation between organized crime networks."
By Gerard Aziakou (AFP)
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