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Drug trade, crime could drag Bissau into chaos-UN

UNITED NATIONS, Oct 2 (Reuters) - Rising drug trafficking and organized crime in Guinea-Bissau could wreak havoc in the West African country, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a report released on Thursday.

"The volume of drug trafficking is much greater than previously thought," Ban said in the report to the U.N. Security Council.

"I am especially concerned about reports that Guinea-Bissau is no longer merely a transit hub, but appears to be fast becoming a major market place in the drug trade."

He said the council may want to consider imposing sanctions on individuals involved in the drug trade and organized crime.

But Ban praised the country's authorities for informing U.N. representatives that they were ready to support "robust, concrete action to target alleged participants at home, as well as their foreign collaborators."

Guinea-Bissau, a tiny former Portuguese colony on the tip of West Africa, has become a major hub in the flow of cocaine from Latin America to Europe as traffickers take advantage of a long, jagged border and a weak state mired in constant crises.

Drugs are flown in by light aircraft then flown or shipped by other traffickers on the next leg of their journey north.

"Affecting peace and security, health, the economy and the rule of law, the increase in drug trafficking could wreak havoc throughout the country and along its borders, as evidence is mounting that criminal gangs are increasingly operating in concert across porous West African borders," the report said.

Ban said drug trafficking and organized crime threatened to wipe out progress in improving governance in Guinea-Bissau and to undermine efforts in building up functioning institutions and stabilizing the country.

TARGETED SANCTIONS

The U.N. Security Council, Ban recommended, should consider setting up a "panel of experts to investigate the identity and activities of those involved in drug trafficking and organized crime in Guinea-Bissau."

He said the council may want to consider "targeted sanctions that would help reverse the current disturbing growth in the drug trafficking crisis in the country."

Such punitive measures usually include travel bans or the freezing of assets of named individuals or companies.

While in power, former Prime Minister Dafa Cabi admitted that some state authorities were involved in the trade. Ban's report did not raise this accusation.

Guinea-Bissau set up a commission in June to investigate high-level official involvement in drug trafficking but it has yet to announce its findings.

Narcotics experts say some members of the military facilitate the trade by guaranteeing safe passage for jets and boats ferrying hundreds of millions of dollars worth of drugs through one of the world's poorest countries.

Guinea-Bissau has lurched from one crisis to another since independence in 1974 and there are fears that the drugs trade will further undermine attempts to stabilize the nation, which is due to hold elections in November. (Editing by John O'Callaghan)

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