Guinea arrests, checks foreigners in drugs clampdown

CONAKRY Wed Feb 12, 2014 12:12pm EST

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CONAKRY (Reuters) - Guinea has arrested about 20 Nigerians and started checking Latin American workers here in a crackdown on a growing wave of drug trafficking through the West African state, Guinean officials said.

The arrests began last week, a security official who asked not to be named said on Wednesday, and have prompted other Nigerians living here to protest outside their embassy, carrying signs and chanting slogans.

Of around 20 arrested, nine have been freed, government spokesman Damantang Albert Camara said. "The rest of the cases will require more careful examination," he added on Tuesday.

Reuters reported last month that a surge in cocaine smuggling had turned Guinea into a hub for traffickers, jeopardizing President Alpha Conde's efforts to rebuild state institutions after a military coup.

The country lies on a smuggling lane known as "Highway 10", the 10th parallel north of the Equator that represents the shortest route for moving Latin American cocaine across the Atlantic and on to buyers in Europe.

"After the Reuters report there was a special ministerial meeting to address the subject. The president has asked security services to be on the alert," the security official said.

Immigration officials were making checks on the Latin Americans, he added. International law enforcement officers say smugglers from countries such as Brazil, Colombia and Suriname have been operating in Conakry.

The U.S. State Department's 2013 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report has also drawn attention to a spike in trafficking in Guinea since Conde was elected in 2010.

An anti-drugs agency in Guinea released a report in July showing that traffickers were operating with the protection of senior civilian, military and police officials.

The recent detentions coincide with a visit to Conakry this week by Ronald Noble, secretary general of the international police agency Interpol.

Noble's visit, part of a West African tour, sought to "identify first-hand the law enforcement needs of member countries", Interpol said in a statement on its website.

(Additional reporting and writing by Emma Farge; Editing by Joe Bavier and Tom Heneghan)

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