Border drug detection teams from Central Asia are being trained to use sniffer dogs in counter-narcotics operations near the Kazakh commercial capital, Almaty.
“During the course participants are learning skills on how to train and use sniffer dogs in searching for and detecting drugs and explosives,” Ruslan Kovalev, head of the Kazakh border service’s unit working with dogs, said from the training facility on Thursday.
Central Asia is reeling from the burgeoning opium trade from Afghanistan. The amount of drugs seized on the Tajik-Afghan border in the first three months of this year increased by 27 percent, Tajikistan's foreign minister, Talbak Nazarov, said on Sunday.
Twenty-five border guards from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are taking part in the training, which is being supported by the European Union (EU) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
“Each border guard has got a dog that he will undergo training with and then take the dog back to work with him,” Kovalev explained, adding that 25 dogs were purchased for the training.
The training has already had results. Khabibullo Odinov, a Tajik border guard who attended the training last year near Almaty, impounded more than 1 kg of heroin with the help of his dog Rex in the Ishkashim part of Tajikistan’s Afghan border in the east of the country in March.
According to Kovalev, the training of one sniffer dog takes between three and six months. “In 2003, we had a case when a dog sniffed out 1 kg of heroin hidden in the footwear of a woman,” the border official said.
Adylbek Omurkulov, a border guard at Kyrgyzstan’s main Manas airport, told IRIN that it was difficult to detect drugs and detain traffickers without special equipment or trained dogs.
“The dogs help us a lot in seizing drugs. It is impossible to detect them through any other means because the way drug traffickers disguise narcotics has become very sophisticated,” Omurkulov said.
He gave an example of traffickers trying to tie packs with drugs to the bellies of hundreds of sheep and then drive them across the border.
“Others smuggle drugs in petrol tanks or fruit. There are some car service stations where whole panel trucks are converted for drug smuggling,” Omurkulov added.
Yuriko Shoji, UNDP Resident Representative in Kazakhstan, said security was of utmost importance in Central Asia, as the region was gaining importance as a transport hub between Asia and Europe.
The UNDP official noted, however, that the region was also known as the crossroads for illegal trafficking of drugs, arms, and even human beings. In an effort to tackle the issue, the Border Management Programme in Central Asia (BOMCA) and the Central Asia Drug Action Programme (CADAP) were launched in partnership with the EU.
The regional representative of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) for Central Asia, James Callahan, said in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, in June that there had been no reduction in drug trafficking in the region.
Uzbek law enforcement authorities confiscated 467 kg of heroin in 2005 - intended for sale abroad, as well as locally. Central Asian law enforcement officials reportedly seized over 4,000 mt of opiates in the region in 2005.
“These programmes are implemented simultaneously in all five Central Asian Republics,” said Ulrich Rainer, BOMCA/CADAP Programme Manager, representing the Delegation of the European Commission (EC) in Almaty. The overall budget of the programmes over the period of nine years for the five Central Asian countries is some US $55 million.
CADAP started activities in January 2001 and is part of an overall strategy of the EC to fight drug trafficking along its eastern borders and reduce drug addiction. BOMCA was launched in 2002 and was initially focussed on the densely populated and volatile Ferghana Valley.
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