A seminar to train Turkmen and Afghan customs officials on how to detect chemical precursors to help reduce drug trade in Central Asia is being held in the Turkmen capital, Ashgabat, thanks to a joint initiative by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the UK government.
Precursors are chemicals such as kerosene which can be used to turn raw substances like opium into morphine, or morphine into heroin.
“We are training customs officers on how to recognise precursors. This is very important as we are neighbouring Afghanistan,” Chary Atayev, a national project coordinator with the UNODC, told IRIN from Ashgabat. “We have to stop traffic of precursors going to Afghanistan from other countries,” he added.
Atayev explained that controlling precursors used to develop illegal substances - heroin being the most common - could help reduce drug trafficking in the region. “We should be ready to prevent any [crossborder] movement and that’s why this training is so relevant,” he noted.
The course will train some 50 Turkmen customs officers on the meaning of precursors and how to detect them. The two-week course will finish on Friday and Afghan border officials are also expected to participate. “We are waiting for Turkmen visas for Afghan customs officials,” the UNODC official said.
“We received 50 testing kits for identifying precursors,” he said, explaining that the kits could indicate the presence of a precursor in a substance. He maintained that it was very easy to use them.
Additionally, in October the UNODC ran a workshop in Uzbekistan in conjunction with the German police. They trained 25 customs officials on how to improve techniques to reduce drug smuggling across the Hayraton border crossing point at the Uzbek-Afghan frontier, which is the main gate to Afghanistan from Central Asia, a UNODC official told IRIN on Friday from the Uzbek capital, Tashkent.
Two experts from the German criminal police (BKA) showed personnel at the Uzbek customs checkpoint, together with officials Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Turkmenistan, search tactics on how to detect drugs and so limit illicit crossborder drug trafficking.
The 10-day seminar, which finished late in October, included one and a half days training on precursors control in Central Asia.
According to regional experts, the five former Soviet republics that lie north of Afghanistan are experiencing growing destabilisation as a result of a vast increase in heroin trafficking from their southern neighbour.
"Although Central Asia has made some advances in regional cooperation to tackle the drugs menace, it suffers from a lack of resources and skilled personnel to staff its narcotics bureaus and customs services," Ahmed Rashid, a journalist and author who has written a number of best-selling books on Afghanistan and Central Asia, told IRIN earlier.
In addition, analysts maintained that Turkmenistan is used by drug traffickers as a conduit to smuggle illicit drugs to the West and as a supply route for sending precursors and essential chemicals to producers in southwest Asia. Currently, the greatest challenge is from international drug smugglers seeking to move opium and/or heroin from Afghanistan to western markets and precursor chemicals to the east.
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