by Uditha Jayasinghe
COLOMBO, June 25 (Xinhua) -- Sri Lanka's geographical location is reaping negative benefits as it becomes converted into a hub by drug traffickers, who are increasingly using the country as a transit point and tapping into a booming post-war tourism industry.
Statistics released by Sri Lanka's Police show that in the first six months of this year over 19,000 people suspected of drug possession have been arrested in the country.
Police media spokesman Ajith Rohana remarked that the Police Narcotics Bureau (PNB) and the Special Task Force along with the help of local police stations have arrested 19,057 persons on drug possession charges so far this year.
"Police have seized 12 kilos and 265 grams of heroin, 51,451 kilos of cannabis, 4 kilos and 44 grams of cocaine and 3 kilos of methamphetamine from the suspects' possession. The street value of the seized drugs is hundreds of millions of rupees," he told Xinhua, adding that there was an increase of foreigners involved in drug smuggling.
In detections made last year, 23 kilos of heroin, 10 kilos of cocaine, 18 kilos of hashish and 50,000 kilos of cannabis were taken into custody.
PNB detectives believe that the growing trade of cocaine, heroin and other party drugs such as meth is clearly linked to supplying the tourism market. A gram of cocaine has a street value of around 150 U.S. dollars currently, making it a very attractive risk for smugglers.
In April, Customs officials and detectives arrested two Thai women who had tried to smuggle in 1,489 grams of cocaine in 160 tiny capsules which they had swallowed.
Two British nationals were arrested in May for attempting to smuggle in hashish hidden inside magazines that they had posted from southern India. One person was arrested when he went to the central mail exchange to collect the parcel while the other was captured several days later.
Since the end of a three decade war in 2009, Sri Lanka's tourism industry has boomed, growing by around 30 percent per annum. In 2012, the government has targeted one million arrivals but the development has come at a cost.
As a result, the PNB has been placed on alert that Sri Lanka is being used as a transit point for smuggling cocaine to other countries. It was reported in February that special teams have been deployed at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) to detect the attempts.
According to recent information, Sri Lanka has also been used as a transit point involving other countries such as Brazil, Peru, Thailand and Nigeria. In 2011 the National Dangerous Drugs Control Board warned that the country was under increasing threat in its annual report.
According to the report, 58 foreigners have been arrested in Sri Lanka for drug trafficking within the last five years. Of them 25 were Pakistanis, four Indians, six Maldivians and five Iranians.
In 2010 alone, 25 foreigners were arrested for the trafficking of 55 kilos of heroin and 3.978 kilos of cocaine. Besides this, two Sri Lankans were arrested in India for drug related offenses.
From 2009 to 2010, the street value of heroine increased by 43 percent, showing the massive amount of money involved in trafficking. The report also pointed out that over 30,000 people were imprisoned in 2010 on drug related charges, creating a massive challenge for law enforcement authorities.
Police have also detected drug smuggling in the northern part of the country with Indian and local fishermen forming a link to transport parcels into Sri Lanka. In April five Indian fishermen were jailed for heroin smuggling in the former war torn Jaffna Peninsula, according to local media reports.
"The increasing number of arrests has reduced drug smuggling in the country," insists Rohana, pointing out that greater vigilance and public assistance has increased the number of arrests. The police have also established a reward system that has resulted in more information filtering to authorities.
Critics, however, fault the police for not arresting drug lords that often receive political protection.