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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 January 2008, 15:02 GMT
Ghana drug girls learn their fate
By Will Ross
BBC News

Yetunde Diya and Yasemin Vatansever being led away from court
The girls could have been jailed until 2010

Two British girls have been jailed for a year after trying to smuggle cocaine from Ghana to the UK.

The two teenagers, Yetunde Diya and Yasemin Vatansever have been getting used to the journey from the Ghana Narcotics Board offices, where they have been locked up since July 2007, to the court in central Accra.

They have done it almost every fortnight since their arrest.

Once again they were driven in the Narcotics Board's large grey four-wheel drive vehicle with tinted windows.

With green patterned African cloth covering their heads, the 16-year-olds were rushed into the courtroom as several local and international media houses struggled to record their fleeting arrival.

One hour later and the two students from north London learned their fate.

The judge handed down a one-year sentence to each of the girls but under Ghanaian law, with good behaviour, they will serve nine months.


Cases such as these should be a warning to anyone that drugs destroy lives. Whether you are a user or a trafficker you are gambling with your life if you meddle in the drug trade

Tony Walker
HM Revenue & Customs

We could not gauge any reaction from the girls as they were whisked away, their heads again covered.

But there must have been some relief.

Having been caught last July at Accra's airport with 6kg of cocaine in two laptop bags, they could have been given the maximum three-year sentence, which would have seen them locked up in a juvenile detention facility until mid-2010.

But after this decision they are now due to be freed on 18 April this year.

There were no relatives at the court.

Since their adventure in Ghana went so badly wrong, the two girls have received some support from the British High Commission - initially being sent pizzas.

Girls' 'vulnerability'

Learning of the verdict, the head of Fair Trials International, Catherine Wolthuizen, said she was pleased the court had followed the recommendation of social workers in setting a relatively short sentence.

However, she expressed regret that the bigger fish in this drug smuggling operation had got away with it.

"Given the particular vulnerability of the girls, their lack of any previous criminal record, their youth and their status as pawns in a larger operation, run by other parties who have not yet been caught or prosecuted, it is deeply unfortunate that they, and not the men who lured them to Ghana, are bearing the consequences," she said.

"These girls were preyed upon by the real perpetrators of the drugs trade through Ghana, and we urge law enforcement agencies to focus their efforts on ensuring these people are brought to justice."

I would like to warn young people not to be fooled by the drug gangs who pretend to offer easy cash for smuggling their poison
Michael Essien

Fair Trials International has been in contact with the girls' relatives in London, who are understood to be relieved at the length of sentence and the fact that their period of uncertainty is now over.

Meanwhile, the British government has focused on the warning this trial sends out to other would-be traffickers.

"Cases such as these should be a warning to anyone that drugs destroy lives. Whether you are a user or a trafficker you are gambling with your life if you meddle in the drug trade," cautioned Tony Walker of HM Revenue & Customs.

And it seems the Ghanaian authorities were also pleased with the outcome.

Francis Apoku-Amoah, a spokesman for Ghana's Narcotics Control Board, said the case had sent out a clear message that the law would catch up with smugglers.

He also said he hoped the British teenagers would do well after they are released.

"All we are praying for is that they will get that second chance and do something with their lives," he said.

Moved to detention

West Africa has increasingly become a transit point for South American drugs, especially cocaine.

The UK and Ghana have worked together to tackle the smuggling through Accra's airport, and under Operation Westbridge drugs with a street value in excess of 61m have been prevented from entering the UK and other European countries over the past year.

There is no agreement for an exchange of prisoners between the two countries, so Yetunde and Yasemin will now be moved to the juvenile detention facility in Mamobi, a lively suburb of Accra.

There they will not be able avoid the hysteria of the ongoing Africa Cup Of Nations football tournament.

Their new inmates will no doubt be cheering on Ghana's Black Stars whose best known player, Michael Essien, has joined in the war on drug smuggling.

'Ruthless' gangs

"I would like to warn young people not to be fooled by the drug gangs who pretend to offer easy cash for smuggling their poison," said Essien.

"These gangs are ruthless and are more than happy to sacrifice the lives and liberty of young people in order to enrich themselves without a thought for the harm caused."

But, despite the high risk, stopping the trafficking is an uphill struggle because the profits are so great.

In Ghana cocaine is often in the news - but for many people drug smuggling does not have the same connotation as it does in Europe.

Here some people look at the cocaine trade as just another way of earning a living.



SEE ALSO
Ghana smuggling case progresses
16 Aug 07 |  London
UK girls on Ghana drugs charges
13 Jul 07 |  Africa

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