Tue, Feb 01, 2005 - Page 5 News List

South Pacific tries to tackle organized crime, drugs, terror

AP , Suva, Fiji

The way drug dealers have recently set up operations in Pacific island nations shows how the region can become a weak link in the global fight against international crime and terror, a regional leader warned yesterday.

Recent drug hauls in Fiji, Tonga, Kiribati, the Federated States of Micronesia, Vanuatu and the Marshall Islands have shown the extent of the peril facing the region's governments, said Secretary-General Greg Urwin of the Pacific Islands Forum.

Pacific governments must take urgent steps to avoid becoming "something of a weak link" in the fight against transnational crime, Urwin told a regional meeting of law enforcement agencies in the Fiji capital, Suva.

Britain's High Commissioner to Fiji, Charles Mochan, also cited alleged gang-related slayings in Fiji and possible money laundering reported by the Reserve Bank of Fiji as showing that organized crime was seeping into the South Pacific.

Criminal gangs and terror networks can rapidly adapt to the opportunities that globalization has provided in a region once regarded as isolated, Urwin said.

"Such groups are quick to use the Internet, and increases in trade, tourism and travel volumes within the Pacific region, to commit crime on a wider scale," he said.

Those same "operating conditions" also could be used to support terrorism, he warned.

The region has long been known for lax border controls, weak governments and widespread corruption, leading to fears it could be used as a base for criminal gangs.

Last year in Suva, the southern hemisphere's biggest laboratory to produce the illicit drug crystal amphetamine was shut down in a raid on dealers. That bust along with drug seizures in other Pacific nations were a wake-up call for police in the region, Urwin said.

"It is therefore essential to work more closely with each other to combat them," he said.

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