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Thursday, January 03, 2008

Cocaine Captured on Algerian-Mali Border aftger Shootout

Thu 3 Jan 2008, 18:27 GMT

BAMAKO, Jan 3 (Reuters) - Malian customs officers seized three quarters of a tonne of cocaine worth an estimated $45 million after a desert shootout with heavily armed smugglers near the Algerian border, officials said on Thursday.

West Africa has become a major trafficking route for Colombian cocaine headed for the lucrative streets of Europe, and smuggling gangs ply their trade across thinly-policed borders at the heart of Africa's biggest desert.

The drugs were discovered on board two four-wheel-drive vehicles near the town of
Tin-Zaouatene on the Mali-Algeria border, said a senior Territorial Administration Ministry official.

"The seizure took place ... following a car chase and gun fight, or a battle, you could say, as they had military weapons," he said.

"After two hours of fighting, the smugglers, who were driving three Algerian-registered off-roaders, abandoned two of them, loaded their wounded into the third vehicle and fled over the border," he said.

Malian authorities estimated the cocaine, one of the country's biggest ever seizures, to be worth 20 billion CFA francs ($45 million) he said.

Trafficking of drugs, weapons and people via ancient trade routes has increased insecurity in the remote central Sahara, as well as in some of West Africa's coastal states which act as transit points for the illicit cargoes.

U.N. officials say the tiny, deeply impoverished state of Guinea-Bissau risks becoming a "narco-state" unless the international community helps its poorly equipped police force take on wealthy and heavily-armed Latin American drugs gangs.

(Reporting by Tiemoko Diallo; Writing by Alistair Thomson, Editing by Matthew Jones)

The Rest @ Reuters Africa

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