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According to them, the burgeoning seizures confirm that Central Africa is not only fast becoming a South American drug passageway, but also a consumption base.

“A few decades ago, it was zero,” Lawrence Tang Enow, senior police superintendent and Interpol regional training officer in Cameroon, told AP. “After some time, we started seizing a few grams. Now we got to a situation where last year we seized [308 pounds] at the Douala International Airport alone.”

Separate Interpol country reports based on police and customs statistics show increased seizures of Europe-bound cocaine and heroin and rising numbers of arrests of peddlers.

The South American cartels and their local accomplices are turning Central Africa into a steppingstone along their “cocaine route” to Europe by exploiting local weaknesses, such as deficient controls at ports, poor traveler inspection equipment, porous land and sea borders, and endemic corruption overwhelming security and customs departments, according to Interpol.

‘Serious cankerworm’

In February, the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimated that cocaine smuggling in West and Central Africa generates $900 million annually, up from $800 million in 2009.

Particularly worrisome is the suspected involvement of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and Nigeria’s Islamist terrorist group, Boko Haram, which may be involved in trafficking to fund their activities, according to a report published last year by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

“When the drug dealers come in, they influence the politics of countries, criminal activities and corruption. It is a very serious problem,” said Conrad Atefor Ntsefor, an official at the Interpol Central Africa Regional Bureau in the Cameroonian capital, Yaounde.

According to Mr. Atefor Ntsefor, the wealthy and powerful cartels, whose bank accounts sometimes dwarf the state budgets in some African countries, can easily buy off government officials.

UNODC has warned that Central Africa also risks increases in piracy off its coasts, illegal arms circulation, human trafficking and general instability.

“The fear is that if we don’t act and act in time, this phenomenon will become a serious cankerworm,” Mr. Atefor Ntsefor warned.

The Central Africa Regional Interpol Bureau has been working with various country police and customs departments to merge and coordinate intervention strategies, reinforce databases on the movements and activities of suspects and encourage prompt information-sharing to facilitate the tracking down of traffickers.

Officials say the work is paying off gradually.

“We try to share information, intelligence and better coordinate through our secure communications system. I must admit here that that is what has been the driving force for the arrests of drug traffickers,” Mr. Atefor Ntsefor said.

The regional efforts add to periodic crackdowns being jointly organized across West Africa, Central Africa and Latin America by the World Customs Organization, UNODC and Interpol.

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