Togo says extradites Colombian drugs suspect to US

LOME, Jan 16 (Reuters) - Togo has extradited a suspected Colombian drug-trafficker to the United States after he was arrested along with accomplices trying to smuggle cocaine to Europe, the West African state's government said on Friday.

Jorge Solano Cortes was detained by Togolese police in November in an anti-drugs operation backed by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Seven other Colombians, a Costa Rican and a Mexican were also detained, along with a South African, a Ghanaian and two Togolese.

Police said the group was planning to fly 500 kg of cocaine from the northern town of Niamtougou in Togo, which is sandwiched between Ghana and Benin, to the Atlantic port of Lome from where it was to be smuggled in containers to Europe.

Solano Cortes was flown to the United States on Thursday, Togo's government said in a statement, after it agreed to an extradition request from the U.S. Justice Department. He was wanted in the United States on charges of cocaine-smuggling.

United Nations anti-narcotics experts say an increase of cocaine trafficking on West Africa's Atlantic seaboard in recent years has turned it into a "Coke Coast", with Colombian cartels using flotillas of planes and boats to smuggle drugs to Europe.

Traffickers work with locals, sometimes in government or military and police circles, the experts say.

Over the last three years, law enforcement authorities have made major cocaine seizures in Guinea-Bissau, Senegal, Mauritania and Sierra Leone and have also focused on bauxite-producer Guinea as a suspected trans-shipment hub.

The experts say this pressure has driven the traffickers to seek out smaller states like Gambia, Togo or Benin. (For full Reuters Africa coverage and to have your say on the top issues, visit:

) (Reporting by John Zodzi; Writing by Pascal Fletcher; editing by Elizabeth Piper)