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Monday, September 03, 2007

Guinea-Bissau's Arrests Two in a Money Laundering or or Drug Run

BISSAU, Sept 3 (Reuters) - Guinea-Bissau's police are holding two Colombians after seizing weapons and a large sum of money in a raid on suspected drug-traffickers, a senior officer said on Monday.

Law enforcement experts say the tiny, poor West African state, a former Portuguese colony on the Atlantic coast, is increasingly being used by international drug cartels as a staging post to smuggle cocaine to Europe.

The senior officer, who asked not to be named, said guns, ammunition, grenades and large amounts of currency, including euros and the CFA francs used across much of West Africa, were confiscated in the raid last month that netted the two suspects.

"They are Colombians," the officer said, adding the two were being held on charges of illegally possessing arms and on suspicion of money laundering. The investigation was continuing. The two were arrested in the Bairro Militar neighbourhood of the country's crumbling capital Bissau.
Another police source identified one of the arrested men as the administrator of a local construction company.

Stung by international criticism that they are not doing enough to intercept tonnes of Colombian cocaine passing through to Europe, authorities in Guinea-Bissau have recently announced measures to counter the drugs trade.

Armed Forces Chief of Staff General Batista Tagme Na Wai said last week the military would shoot down any planes which entered Guinea-Bissau's airspace without permission.

Authorities say shipments of Colombian cocaine seized by local police are being flown in by small planes from Latin America to local bush airstrips. The drugs are then flown or shipped out of the country to Europe by the traffickers.

Na Wai said anti-aircraft batteries had been installed in the offshore Bijagos islands, whose jungles, beaches and mangrove creeks have been used by traffickers to set up clandestine airstrips and embarkation points.

International law enforcement officers say they fear corrupt government and military officers and members of the judiciary may be cooperating with the traffickers. Senior military commanders deny involvement in the drugs trade.

Last year, two suspected Colombian cocaine traffickers arrested in Guinea-Bissau's biggest drugs haul were allowed to walk when a local judge ordered their release with no clear legal explanation.

Drugs seized at the time, valued at $25 million, subsequently disappeared from the public treasury.

Since independence from Portugal in 1974, Guinea-Bissau has known little but violence, political instability and poverty, its 1.5 million people surviving mostly by fishing and growing cashew nuts.

The Rest @ Reuters Africa

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