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Last Updated: Thursday, 6 October 2005, 01:45 GMT 02:45 UK
Turkey at the drugs crossroads
By Sarah Rainsford
BBC News, Istanbul

Turkey sits at the centre of a drug-smuggling crossroads. Synthetic drugs transit from West to East, while opiates move in the opposite direction.

As a vast land mass that straddles Asia and Europe, Turkey is a highly attractive route.

According to the British Foreign Office, as much as 80% of all heroin used in Britain has come through Turkey.

So it is no surprise Ankara sits alongside Afghanistan, in the British government's priority list in terms of tackling trafficking.

The vast majority of drugs crossing the Turkish border are destined for transit out of the country. Narcotics abuse is increasing in Turkey, but it is still viewed as a relatively small-scale problem.

Graphic of drugs
The BBC News website is exploring drugs in Britain in a special series of features.
We look at how drugs get here, who uses them and whether current anti-drugs strategies are working.

Not so for the West.

But Turkey's record on drugs busts is strong and improving.

In its latest report covering 2004, the Interior Ministry boasts of a 149% increase in seizures of opium and opium derivates. The amount captured is almost equal to the total for the whole of Central and Western Europe. For heroin alone, the increase was 84%.

"If you look at international statistics, then the Turkish police catch more drugs than almost any other force," a former police officer told the BBC.

He says most drugs are transported over land inside truck engines, oil tanks, and even headlights.

The ex-policeman believes the high seizure rate now is largely down to increased production in Afghanistan.

He also suggests a police crackdown in Turkey sent many smugglers elsewhere, seeking safer routes.

Turkish mafia

Enis Berberoglu, who has written several books on the subject, agrees.

"Turkey was deeply involved in drug smuggling in the mid 1990s. There was a very strong mafia here at that time and the PKK (the Kurdish rebel group the Kurdistan Workers Party) used to take protection money in return for letting them operate in the east," he said.

His view reflects a widespread belief in Turkey that the PKK uses drug trafficking to finance terror.

We have 13 mountains on our border with Iran. They are protected by 21 security posts and unfortunately this is not enough
Yeni Safak, Governor, Van province

"Now the Turkish mafia has lost power to Ukraine and a lot of the smuggling goes that way. Turkey has not been seriously criticised on that front for a while."

The smuggling routes in Turkey are well established, however. Drugs mainly enter Turkey via Iran and exit through the Balkans, so the Iranian border is critical.

But in an interview with the Yeni Safak newspaper, the Governor of Van province in eastern Turkey explained the difficulties of securing it.

"We have 13 mountains ranging in height from 3,500 - 4,500 metres on our border with Iran. They are protected by 21 security posts and unfortunately this is not enough," he explained.

"If the borders had been drawn just five kilometres differently, then controls would have been far easier."

EU at stake

As Turkey continues on the long path of EU membership negotiations, the fight against organised crime and drug trafficking is one of many areas it will be obliged to address.

Narcotics agent seizes heroin from a lorry
Heroin is smuggled overland from Afghanistan

Ankara will have to adopt talks on improved legislation and enhanced law enforcement.

Some EU-backed projects are already in place providing specialist training, vehicles and equipment.

Already high, international attention to Turkey's borders is certain to increase - and not only for drug-smuggling.

"If Turkey makes it into the EU then our borders will be Europe's borders. They will have to be raised to European standards," said Aydin Dumanoglu, from Turkey's ruling AK party.

"We need to focus on finding who is behind the trafficking and stop it. That's why we are asking for more help from Europe."

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