UN helps in local effort to rid Liberia of marijuana

20 October 2008

The United Nations is assisting Liberian National Police (LNP) tackle the drug trade in remote areas of the West African nation, with the latest joint raid bringing the total amount of marijuana seized to almost 1,000 kilograms.

UN Police (UNPOL) and a Bangladeshi battalion and a Nigerian formed police unit (FPU) serving with the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) took part in the LNP-coordinated surprise operation, one of several recent efforts seeking to identify and destroy marijuana plantations, UNPOL reported today.

The stop and search operation, which took place in Bong County, occurred when officers pulled over a car and found four large sacks of cassava, which they sliced open to reveal tightly packed bags containing over 50 kilograms of dried marijuana. The raid was a result of surveillance and intelligence-gathering that began this May.

“A major aim of these operations is to build the capacity of the LNP,” said UNMIL Police Commissioner Henrik Stiernblad. The UN has organized previous seizures, but the Liberian police are starting to take the reins and command the raids.

During the 14-year civil war that killed almost 150,000 people, mostly civilians, warlords gave away marijuana freely to their young soldiers, including children, to alleviate stress and in a bid to create dependency.

Left in shambles by the conflict, the economy offers few employment opportunities in the formal sector, with many youth still addicted to the drug five years after the end of the war.

Liberian police acknowledge that eradicating plantations is an uphill battle, given many communities’ reliance on marijuana for their income. Nearly 450,000 plants have been destroyed to date.

“Marijuana makes people happy,” said LNP anti-narcotics officer Flomo J. Tomkollie. “To combat the problem, we need to find other ways to make them happy – we need to train people and help them find a job.”

Despite the economic toll stamping out the marijuana trade will take on local village, H. Mulbah Mbetor, chief of the Koshenquelleh region, said he supports Liberian police officers’ efforts, having seen the destruction the drug causes on youth first-hand.

“When young people smoke they don’t have a good understand – they think they can make more money by growing marijuana than by going to school or learning a trade,” he said. “But with the LNP coming and burning the crops, the young people are starting to think they might be better off doing something legal.”

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