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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

860 kg of Cocaine Seized in Maurtania

By Ibrahima Sylla

NOUAKCHOTT, Aug 14 (Reuters) - Mauritanian police found 860 kg (1,896 lb) of cocaine hidden beneath sacks of rice in a parked minibus in the West African country's biggest drugs bust.

Mauritanian authorities made the find while investigating those behind the smuggling of more than 600 kg of cocaine which was seized after a small plane made an emergency landing at the northern port of Nouadhibou in May, police said late on Monday.

The region has become a major hub for Colombian cocaine being trafficked to markets in Europe, where street prices are significantly higher than in the United States.

"During our investigations we noticed a parked minibus which looked different from other such vehicles even though it had registration plates from this country," said Police Commissioner Ely Ould Sneiba, director of the country's anti-drugs office.

"The investigating judge ordered the police to search the minibus and inside they found 21 50-kg sacks full of cocaine hidden beneath sacks of rice," he told Reuters.

Police arrested two men on the scene, one from Mauritania and one from Western Sahara, which is claimed by Morocco.

Two more suspected accomplices were detained later, Ould Sneiba said. He did not disclose their nationalities.

U.N. drugs officials estimated cocaine fetched some $42,000 per kg on arrival in Europe during 2005, which would put the wholesale value of Monday's seizure at well over $30 million.
The retail value on European streets could be twice that.

Law enforcement officials say Guinea Bissau, which adjoins Mauritania's southern neighbour Senegal, is a major hub in a network of sea, land and air routes spanning the Atlantic and much of Africa which are used by Latin American drugs gangs.

Experts say most of the drugs pass through the region undetected although police in several countries have seized big consignments of cocaine this year.

A fortnight ago Senegal incinerated nearly 2.5 tonnes of cocaine seized in June after a deserted sailing yacht loaded with the drug drifted into a popular coastal resort.

Mauritania to the north, with barely 3 million people scattered over a vast territory stretching from an Atlantic coastline deep into the Sahara, is "a perfect backdrop" for trafficking, said Kissy Agyeman, London-based Africa analyst for risk consultancy Global Insight.

"Security controls in Mauritania remain a problem for curbing the illicit entry of drugs, often bound for European destinations, because vast swathes of desert coastline are unmanned, or, if they are patrolled, it is often by camel-bound security patrols," Agyeman said in a note last week.


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