By Anna Shilongo WINDHOEK Namibia has progressed from being a transit route for hard-core drugs to a consumer country with a growing number of people sniffing cocaine. Drugs that normally find their way from Angola to South Africa and some European countries have found a foothold in Namibia with cannabis, methaqualone, cocaine powder, crack and ecstasy being sold on the local market at an alarming rate. Statistics from the Drug Law Enforcement Unit (DLEU) indicate the use of hard-core drugs is on the increase compared to previous years. In 2006, about 526 people were arrested for dealing in or being in possession of drugs while last year the number of arrests shot to 863 people. The biggest single cannabis haul was 544 kilogrammes, with an estimated street value of N$1,6 million, which was confiscated from two South African truck drivers. The biggest single cocaine powder haul was 32.477 kg valued at N$16 million and was confiscated from Angolan nationals. Detective Chief Inspector of the Drug Law Enforcement Unit, Bart de Klerk, expressed concern over the increased use of hard-core drugs in the country. "Cocaine took over the market of mandrax and at this moment, crack (cocaine) is our biggest concern," he said. Drug dealers are known to originate from South Africa and Angola, he said. Asked how Namibia became a transit country, De Klerk said dealers in South America provide drugs to Angola and Angolan dealers use Namibia as a transit country to transport drugs to South Africa and other European countries. He warned the public to abstain from using drugs, adding that drugs have a negative impact on people's wellbeing. "Many street children are exposed to the use of drugs and as a result, they are at risk. Many have already started using drugs at the age of nine," he said. "You will be surprised to find out who uses drugs in our communities, people that you least expect to use drugs are the ones addicted," explained the police detective. According to De Klerk, the age group of people arrested in the country is between nine and 45 years old. He noted that the use of drugs has led many into debts, while some women are selling their bodies for drugs. There are measures put in place to combat the use of drugs in the country, he said. Currently, there is a demand reduction policy, which is an on-going campaign that sensitises school children, churches and youth about the dangers of drugs. There is also an annual United Nations office drugs and crime campaign. All United Nations member countries often gather in Austria to discus drug policies and bring up some solutions to the problems. Heads of drug units in Africa also gather in any given country once a year to discuss matters of mutual concern that face the continent, while Interpol is also playing its part. Interpol is responsible for cross-border operations within the region. It holds workshops, meetings as well as training courses for the officers. "Another way of arresting dealers is through disruptive operations at their homes and hanging out places as well as searching people in the streets on a daily basis," said De Klerk. Plans are underway to train sniffer dogs to identify all sorts of drugs, he stated. "This I believe will assist us in speeding up the process when searching for drugs. Normally a dog takes 20 minutes to complete the search," he added. About three weeks ago, an operation code-named Rasta was launched where 12 people were arrested on the streets. A Drug Act is expected to be enacted this year, said De Klerk. Once in place, mandatory minimum sentence for the first offender will be 20 years without an option of bail. Previously, once caught in possession of drugs, a first offender would be given a fine exceeding N$15??????'??
2008-04-16 00:00:00 10 years ago