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30 September 2010 - Media release

EU-INTERPOL symposium provides forum for enhanced international police co-operation against transnational crime in West Africa

INTERPOL Chief warns of international implication of ‘full-scale assault’ on the region by transnational drug-traffick

BRUSSELS, Belgium – The need for integrated international policing to address the wider global implications of transnational crime affecting Africa, particularly drugs trafficking, was the focus of a joint European Union-INTERPOL symposium held under the aegis of Belgium’s EU presidency.

Bringing together some 180 senior law enforcement and justice officials from the EU, INTERPOL, WAPCCO (West African Police Chiefs Committee), the United Nations, Europol and the World Customs Organization, Thursday’s symposium addressed the challenges of widespread transnational and cross-border crime in West Africa, including terrorism, as well as drugs, weapons and human trafficking. It will recommend proposals for enhancing international police co-operation on crime in West Africa to the EU Standing Committee on Internal Security (COSI) meeting in November.

Speaking at the symposium, Belgian Minister for Interior Affairs Annemie Turtelboom said: “The EU must improve the co-ordination and co-operation with its member states by using all possible means under the Lisbon Treaty. This is important to avoid duplication of efforts and to improve co-ordination with the African authorities in the fight against organized crime in West Africa."

In her speech, EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmström emphasized the need for a global approach to security: "Our internal security in Europe is closely linked to the external security of the Union. Flows of drugs, weapons and stolen goods not only cause misery for West African citizens, they also have an impact on the streets of Europe," said Cecilia Malmström.

INTERPOL Secretary General Ronald K. Noble said that with globalization facilitating transnational crime and the ability of criminals to travel more freely, ‘instability and transnational crime in West Africa have implications for countries far beyond Africa’s borders’.

"Countries around the world have come to recognize the global dimensions of their local and regional security problems and realize the need to work with other countries and partners to tackle these challenges.”

With as much as a quarter of the cocaine consumed in Europe transiting through West Africa from South America, Mr Noble warned that “what once seemed like a trickle has turned into a full-scale assault on countries in the region by transnational drug-trafficking networks.”

Mr Noble said that instability created by drug traffickers undid any progress made in the region, undermining efforts to foster sustainable peace, stability and prosperity, with implications for Europe and the international community.

In this respect, on the sidelines of the meeting the INTERPOL Chief highlighted as a step forward INTERPOL’s West African Coast Initiative in support of the Regional Plan of Action on illicit drug trafficking and organized crime of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). In partnership with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, the UN Department of Political Affairs’ Office for West Africa, ECOWAS and national authorities in the four pilot countries – Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia and Sierra Leone – Mr Noble said that the Initiative was ‘the essence of integrated policing’ in leveraging individual strengths and expertise to achieve the greatest impact ‘by placing INTERPOL’s global tools directly into the hands of officers who need them most’.

Belgian Federal Police Chief and EU COSI President Fernand Koekelberg said: “INTERPOL's decision to organize this symposium under the Belgian Presidency of the European Union puts the spotlight on West Africa, which has today become a priority region for Belgium and, more generally, for the European Union.  The problems of crime originating in or transiting through the region require us to join forces at European Union level in our support for the region against organized crime, so that we can co-ordinate and prepare together specific actions based on co-operation.  This symposium is a first decisive step in this common approach.”

The first component of the West African Coast Initiative will see the creation of elite Transnational Crime Units in each pilot country. These units will bring together police, customs, and immigration officers, prosecutors and INTERPOL National Central Bureaus, and will also entail training in criminal investigation and analysis, enhancement of technical infrastructures, including expanded access to INTERPOL’s I-24/7 communications network and global police databases to international airports and other border points in the four countries.