PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT
Pacific Islands Development Program/East-West Center
AUSTRALIAN POLICE SEEK PARTNERSHIPS IN MICRONESIA
By Gemma Q. Casas
SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Aug 23) Ė The Australian Federal Police (AFP) are helping Micronesian islands set up transnational crime units that will help curb criminal activities in the region.
Chris Barnes, visiting program manager of the AFP Pacific Transnational Crime Network, said sharing information among law enforcement agencies of island nations in the Pacific region is very important.
"Our role is to explain to the Micronesian police executives the role of the Australian Federal Police in (combating) transnational crimes in the Pacific area and in the waters of the Pacific and we are also here to explain to them the partnership arrangements with the U.S. Department of Defense," said Barnes who was among the key guest speakers in the two-day Micronesian Police Executive Association conference.
"What weíre doing in Micronesia is weíre establishing a regional transnational crime unit that will have the synergy and connectivity to become part of the transnational crime network that we established in the South Pacific in 2002," he added.
Two years after Australia first established the units in the South Pacific, authorities busted a major drug syndicate in Suva, Fiji, capable of manufacturing half-a-ton of crystal methamphetamine hydrochloride commonly known here as "ice."
"One of our more spectacular successes was the arrest of a group who established a crystal methamphetamine laboratory in Suva, Fiji. And at that time, June 2004, it was the largest crystal meth laboratory discovered in the Southern Hemisphere, capable of producing a ton of crystal meth a week," Barnes said in an interview. "Because itís so cheap to produce crystal methamphetamine, the profits are enormous."
Also in Fiji, the AFP intercepted 357 kilos of heroin valued at several million dollars.
Barnes said drug-related criminal activity in island nations isnít spearheaded by indigenous-descent people nor are they intended to be the primary market of the drugs.
He said organized drug criminals are actually targeting international tourists frequenting the island nations.
"It wasnít so much destined for the local market as it was for the Australian, New Zealand and the American markets. Suva was chosen because of its weak legislation (when it comes to criminal activities)," said the Australian transnational crime expert.
"I guess the key issue here is the cooperation between the transnational crime units to arrest the criminals," he added.
Nearly 500,000 tourists visit the Northern Marianas every year while its neighbor island of Guam hosts more than 1 million.
Palauís tourism industry is also picking up.
Barnes said the transnational crime unit networks in the region are still in the "embryonic" stage but itís a good start.
Australia provides the island nations with technical assistance in the form of advice and mentors, training in gathering intelligence and conducting investigations, and equipment like computers, to strengthen their law enforcement capabilities.
"Intelligence management and investigation capability are the sort of skills that are required to fight transnational crimes," said Barnes.
The Australian-led transnational crime units are spread over Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, and, soon, the Federated States of Micronesia.
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