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Feb. 1 (IRIN) - Drug trafficking gangs shipping South American narcotics to Europe are using the tiny West African nation of Guinea Bissau as a transit centre, drawn by the cash-strapped government's lack of capacity to tackle the problem, warned UN officials.

A five-day mission led by the head of the UN Office o­n Drugs and Crime in West Africa, Antonio Mazzitelli, found that the government's weak border security had attracted international criminal networks to Guinea Bissau.

The cash-strapped government has no coast guard, police have no cars and the navy no boats for patrolling national waters where scattered tiny islands make a haven for smugglers.

Even if criminals are caught, there are no high security prisons to house them, police chiefs complain.

Mazzitelli said that the prisons that he had visited were "practically inhuman," with prisoners bundled in cramped cells without electricity or water.

As Mazzitelli spoke in the seafront capital Bissau, police arrested four West Africans at the nearby international airport who had arrived from Brazil carrying among them 199 capsules of cocaine in their stomachs.

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BVN National News Wire