Page last updated at 11:54 GMT, Thursday, 9 July 2009 12:54 UK

UN plans to tackle W Africa crime

Drug officers in Ivory Coast, file image
Local officers will have training from overseas experts

Peacekeepers, Interpol and various United Nations agencies have promised to work together to tackle the rampant lawlessness in West Africa.

The new plan initially covers Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Liberia and Sierra Leone - all countries hit by civil conflict in recent years.

International agencies will form joint crime units with local officers.

The UN says the smuggling of oil, arms, toxic waste, diamonds, people and drugs are major problems in the region.

The head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, Antonio Maria Costa, told the BBC's World Today programme that the underlying causes needed to be tackled first.

"Organised crime is attacking West Africa because of the intrinsic weaknesses of these countries - the result of poverty, the result of underdevelopment, the result of corruption," he said.

Those problems could not be solved overnight, he said, but the scheme would try to boost the countries' judicial systems, strengthen border controls and bolster air and sea patrols.

A report by Mr Costa's office on Tuesday said corruption was rife among senior officials, undermining democracy and economic development.

But the report did identify one positive trend - a reduction in the flow of cocaine through West Africa to Europe.

In recent years West African countries have been used as a transit point by Colombian drug lords, but increased international attention has smothered some trafficking activity in the past year.

The agency warned that democracy and development would continue to falter in West Africa while crime and corruption flourished.

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