- Guinea-Bissau police have arrested head of the air traffic control tower at the country's main airport following seizure of a plane in a latest drug bust, senior police said.
An executive jet from South America which landed in the country's international airport on Saturday, caused a commotion as soldiers tried to stop police from searching plane which is alleged to have carried 500 kilograms of drugs. The plane's three-man Venezuelan crew was arrested there and then on suspicion of smuggling cocaine.
The country has become a major hub for cocaine traffickers with smugglers said to be operating with almost total impunity, aided by rampant corruption in public administration.
The latest seizure is a rare victory to the country's losing battle of dismantling drug gangs, whose operations are also said to be affecting neigbouring countries as traffickers seek new routes to smuggle South American cocaine into Europe.
According reports, an estimated volume of cocaine smuggled through Guinea Bissau in 2007 was worth more than its entire national income.
The country's army has denied involvement in drugs smuggling, though international drug experts fear that senior officers in Guinea Bissau's various security services are involved in drug deals.
International law enforcement agencies are said to be closely watching increasing drug traffic as they try to take steps to stem flow of cocaine through the western Africa region.
Last week authorities seized two planes suspected of being used by smugglers at the main international airport in the capital Bissau.
The judicial police, a branch of the country's security, responsible for fighting drug trafficking, have arrested three crew men on Saturday, the head of the force's drugs unit said.
Police in neighbouring Sierra Leone have arrested more than 60 people in the past week, including three Venezuelans and eight other foreigners mostly also from Latin America, and seized 700 kg of cocaine.
Guinea-Bissau has been regarded as a soft touch for smugglers as its police lack funding and basic equipment, making them no match for well-armed and powerful international drugs-smuggling networks with access to planes and speed boats.
According to Reuters, some Latin American smugglers and their local accomplices arrested during previous seizures have been freed by Bissau's judiciary, which critics say its weak and corrupt.
Donors are now investing in agencies like the judicial police, which is to receive US$3.2 million from the United Nations for equipment and training to combat the crime.
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