UN official urges world to rescue Guinea-Bissau from drug cartels

Other News Materials 20 December 2007 04:27 (UTC +04:00)

( AFP ) - Donors pledged millions of dollars at a conference Wednesday to help Guinea Bissau, which a top UN official called "under siege" by drug cartels who might even sway the country's future polls.

A total of 6.7 million dollars have been already pledged during the one-day Lisbon conference for a three-year, 19-million-dollar (13.2-million-euro) plan to tackle the problem.

"This meeting in Lisbon today is your chance to answer the call," said the head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Antonio Maria Costa at the start of a conference on the issue.

"There is urgency, because Guinea-Bissau is under siege, literally under siege" by international drug traffickers, he said.

"Even the most important political processes in the country -- namely the parliamentary elections scheduled for next fall -- could be spoiled or contaminated, or perhaps even determined by drug money," he said.

"Contributions to the order of 6.7 million dollars have already been announced," Joao Gomes Cravinho, Portugal's secretary of state for foreign affairs and cooperation told a closing news conference.

"We have achieved our main objective which is to give the Guinea-Bissau authorities the means to launch their action plan against drug trafficking," Cravinho said.

Portugal has pledged three million dollars over three years for the counter-narcotics plan and the European Commission will earmark 2.9 million as of 2008.

Britain, Germany, Italy and the United States have also announced "initial" contributions to the tune of several hundred thousand dollars.

Guinea-Bissau's Prime Minister Martinho Dafa Cabi repeated his country's position that it needed international support in its fight against the well-resourced and well-organised gangs of drug traffickers.

"With inefficient institutions, insecurity and poverty, we are really a vulnerable country," he said, while voicing "the determination of (the) government to do all that is possible" to eradicate the menace.

Guinea-Bissau, the world's fifth poorest country, has with other parts of West Africa become a transit hub for Latin American gangs smuggling cocaine to Europe, according to a UNODC report released earlier this month.

The UNODC-backed strategy is aimed in particular at helping Guinea-Bissau authorities tighten border controls and improve the functioning of their police force and judicial system.

Last week, the organisation's head Costa told the UN Security Council that "drug money is perverting the economy and rotting society" in Guinea-Bissau.

"Using threats and bribes, drug traffickers are infiltrating state structures and operating with impunity."

As well as Costa and Portuguese officials, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, president of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and delegates from the European Union also attended the conference.