Gambia jails foreign cocaine dealers

cocaine file photo
Image caption West Africa has become a major transit hub for drugs to Europe

The Gambia has sentenced eight foreigners to 50 years each in prison for trying to smuggle two tonnes of cocaine from Latin America to Europe.

The eight - four Venezuelans, two Dutch, a Nigerian and a Mexican - were held last year in a fishing village following the seizure of the cocaine.

Another suspect - a Venezuelan - died in jail on Sunday, days before a court passed the sentence.

The West African state is a notorious transit point for drug traffickers.

In his judgement, Magistrate Lamin Tabally said The Gambia was determined to curb trafficking.

"The Gambian government has made its position known on issues relating to drug trafficking and, as a result, I am going to send a signal to other drug traffickers that The Gambia is a no-go area for them," he said.

'Harsher laws'

One of the accused men, Dose Fermin, died at a prison in the capital, Banjul, on Sunday of natural causes, said the prison's chief medical officer, Babucar Jatta.

They were arrested in June 2010 in a fishing village near Banjul after 2.1 tonnes of cocaine was found hidden in a warehouse belonging to a fishing company.

Last year, Attorney General Edward Anthony Gomez said the government would introduce harsher laws to curb the illegal drug trade, including the death penalty for anyone convicted of possessing more than 250g of cocaine or heroin.

The West African coast has emerged as a busy route for drugs from Latin America to Europe, with cartels taking advantage of the region's poverty and weak judicial systems.

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