by Thalif Deen
(IPS) UNITED NATIONS --
United Nations has uncovered a troubling -- and growing -- relationship between illegal drugs and the civil wars in politically-troubled Sub-Saharan Africa.
The Vienna-based International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) says that trafficking in and abuse of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances are increasingly being linked to the various civil conflicts in Africa.
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Liberia, for example, child soldiers were provided with drugs in order to induce them to carry out dangerous operations without fear.
The Board also says that the ongoing civil wars and post-conflict situations that prevail in several African countries are conducive to increasing drug problems among children and youth in particular.
The Board, whose 13 members are elected by the UN's Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), points out that illicit drugs are also being used to finance civil wars in Africa and the purchase of arms, as was the case in Angola and Rwanda.
Urging African governments to increase their efforts to integrate a drug control component into their post-war reconstruction programs, the Board says that in many African countries, seized drugs disappear and known drug traffickers are acquitted frequently or, when released on bail, never show up for trial.
its annual report released Feb. 23, the Board also draws a link between narcotics drugs and the spread of the deadly disease, AIDS.
A high rate of infection and a relatively large number of cases involving AIDS are reported in many countries in Africa.
The study also said that while the leading cause of AIDS transmission is unprotected sex, often in combination with alcohol abuse or the consumption of illicit drugs, there are suggestions that increasing rates of IV drug use -- mainly heroin, but also other substances -- may be exacerbating the situation.
Orphans and street children in Africa, whose numbers are swelling, are said to be most vulnerable to illicit drug trafficking activities and substance abuse.
According to the report, Western and Southern Africa have emerged as important areas both in terms of the trans-shipment of illicit drug consignments, and as growing consumers of cocaine and heroin.
The main drug being trafficked and abused in Africa is cannabis, although methaqualone trafficking and abuse are serious problems in the eastern and southern parts of the region.
In Central America and the Caribbean, on the other hand, the Board is concerned about the increasingly liberal approach of some governments to the offshore banking and gambling industries.
These industries, the report said, have the potential for abuse by persons who engage in money laundering.
The Board said that the proposed establishment of a stock exchange for the eastern Caribbean may also present opportunities for money laundering.
In Latin America, the Board singled out Bolivia as having achieved exceptional results so far in its program to eradicate illicit coca bush cultivation.
"The government of Bolivia deserves the recognition of the international community for the political will that it has shown and the financial, technical and human resources that it has invested in its coca bush eradication efforts," the report said.
In Asia, there was a major reduction in the total area under illicit opium poppy cultivation last year, particularly in Laos, Burma, Thailand and Vietnam.
The study said that Malaysia, China, and Thailand still remain important illicit markets for heroin and also serve as transit points for heroin destined for markets in other parts of East and Southeast Asia, North America and the Pacific islands known as Oceania.
"The abuses of opiates by injection continues to contribute to increases in the prevalence of HIV infection in Burma and Vietnam, as well as in some other countries in East and Southeast Asia," the study said.
In South Asia, however, there has been a rise in drug abuse primarily because the region is home to the world's two main opiate-producing countries, namely Afghanistan and Burma.
The traffic in drugs has led to a rise in drug abuse in South Asia -- a region which has millions of drug abusers.
The study also said that the commitment of the fundamentalist Islamic Taliban government in Afghanistan to ban opium poppy cultivation and heroin manufacture "remains questionable" as it continues to collect taxes on the opium poppy harvest and subsequent heroin that is manufactured.
According to the latest survey, about 97 percent of the area under opium poppy cultivation was on territory controlled by the Taliban.
Heroin manufacture has moved to Afghanistan from Pakistan, where it has virtually disappeared.
The Board said it was concerned about this "grave situation," which negatively affects not only West Asia but also Europe and the rest of the world. And it urges the world community to take appropriate measures to eliminate the scourge of drug abuse.
February 27, 2000 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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