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West Africa sees drop in Europe-bound cocaine trafficking

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(LISBON) - The tide of drugs from Latin America to Europe via West Africa has ebbed over the past year, the head of a seven-nation agency that coordinates the fight against transatlantic drug smuggling said Thursday.

"West Africa has been quiet this year, so more of the cocaine seems to have been heading further north, destined perhaps again more directly into Europe," Tim Manhire, director of the Lisbon-based Maritime Analysis and Operations Centre (MAOC), told AFP.

"The primary arrival point over the last four years for much of the cocaine destined for Europe has been west Africa and it has had a really harmful effect on Guinea-Conakry and Guinea Bissau which are awash in drug money," he said.

"But at this moment in time it seems to be quieter down there than it was a year ago."

European authorities first noticed Latin American cocaine entering the continent via Africa in significant numbers in 2004 as controls in Europe tightened further.

Experts say traffickers targeted the poorest and most vulnerable countries in the sub-region, such as Guinea-Conakry and Guinea-Bissau, because poor maritime and police surveillance there made drug-running easier.

But the authorities in both nations have in recent months taken steps to curb the flow of drugs flowing through them to Europe.

Manhire said the military government which took power in Guinea following the death of President Lansana Conte in December 2008 had "locked up everybody connected to the drug trade."

"What the situation will be like in a years time we dont know but we need to keep on top of all that," he added.

MAOC was set up in September 2007 with top anti-narcotics officials from seven European countries -- Portugal, Ireland, France, Italy, Spain, Britain and the Netherlands -- to help national authorities share information and resources to catch drug shipments, often through high stakes operations on the open seas.

Since then it has coordinated 36 sea operations and led to the seizure of just over 44 tonnes of cocaine worth hundreds of millions of euros.

Manhire, who was loaned to the agency from Britain's Serious and Organised Crime Agency, will retire next month. He will be replaced as the director of MOAC by Portugal's Jose Eduardo Ferreira Leite.

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