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The Narcostate

Road to Ruin.

It’s perhaps not surprising that Tajikistan, which shares a poorly guarded, 750-mile border with opium-rich Afghanistan, has become a major global drug-trafficking hub—in fact, more than 80 percent of Afghanistan’s heroin exports to Russia and Europe now pass through Tajik territory. Over the past decade, the United States, worried that the drug trade would soon be accompanied by all the other security problems that plague Afghanistan, has cooperated closely with Tajikistan’s government to help it stem the narcotics trade. Seems reasonable, right? Unfortunately, that government is such a dubious partner that hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. aid have done little to stop the drug business—while helping to shore up its apparatus of repression.

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Venezuela’s real inflation may be six times the official rate

Venezuela’s real inflation may be six times the official rate

Among the complaints of the Venezuelans that have taken to the street by the tens of thousands over the past couple weeks is the government’s inability to stem high inflation. It’s easy to see why people are angry; official figures put the country’s annualized inflation rate at 56%, which is among the highest in the world. And there’s reason to believe even that high number is a drastic underestimate of Venezuela’s actual inflation rate. The problem with Venezuela’s official rate is that it doesn’t account for the country’s highly active black market, according to Johns Hopkins economics professor Steve Hanke.

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Drug routes expanding in Asean region

Drug routes expanding in Asean region

Drug syndicates are expanding regionally, hence countries should hold discussions with each other to tackle drug-related issues, said Singapore’s Central Narcotics Bureau Director Ng Ser Long on Wednesday. “One of the big trends we have seen in the past, is the movement of drugs from the Golden Triangle to other parts of the world. Now we are seeing drugs from other parts of the world moving to our (Asean) region,” he told The Brunei Times. Ng led a six-member delegation from Singapore to Brunei for the 6th Bilateral Meeting between Brunei’s Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) and Singapore’s Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB).

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Guinea turns into the first African narco-state

Guinea turns into a drug hot spot

A surge in cocaine trafficking has transformed Guinea into West Africa’s latest drug hot spot, jeopardising President Alpha Conde’s efforts to rebuild state institutions after a military coup and attract billion of dollars in mining investment. Locals and Latin Americans long-accused of smuggling are operating freely in the country, some with high-level protection from within Conde’s administration. Counter-narcotics agents from the United States and other countries, meanwhile, concentrated on smugglers in neighbouring Guinea-Bissau, a tiny former Portuguese colony dubbed by crime experts Africa’s first “narco-state”.

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Syria’s brutal civil war opens door to drug trade

Syria’s brutal civil war opens door to drug trade

Syria has become a major amphetamines exporter and consumer as the trauma of the country’s brutal civil war fuels demand and the breakdown in order creates opportunity for producers. Drugs experts, traders and local activists say Syrian production of the most popular of the stimulants, known by its former brand name Captagon, accelerated in 2013, outpacing production in other countries in the region such as Lebanon. Reports of seizures and interviews with people connected to the trade suggest it generates hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenues in Syria, potentially providing funding for weapons, while the drug itself helps combatants dig in for long, gruelling battles.

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Why jade mining is Burma’s road to heroin hell

Why jade mining is Burma’s road to heroin hell

Even by the standards of Burma — infamous for warfare, poverty and oppression — Hpakant is a dark and depraved place. Its once-verdant hills have been ground down into gaping quarries that produce jade of unparalleled quality. By the thousands, men descend into these stadium-sized pits hoping to emerge with an armload of jade, a ticket out of poverty. But Burma’s multibillion dollar jade industry funnels wealth to military-connected elites. Miners’ meagre earnings are typically swallowed not only by middlemen but by potent, dirt-cheap heroin, traded with impunity in Hpakant’s bazaars. “You can see heroin sold on the roadside there like vegetables,” La Htoi said.

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British weapons could be arming Somali pirates

British weapons could be arming Somali pirates

The Government has been forced into an urgent review over why nearly 44,000 guns in only 15 months were sent to tackle piracy in East Africa and a number of repressive regimes. MPs have accused the Business Department of a potential security risk, by approving the exports while failing to look into why British security firms needed so many assault rifles and pistols in countries with poor human rights records, such as Sri Lanka, Egypt and the Maldives. Government data shows that the arms exports comprised 30,000 assault rifles, 2,536 pistols and 11,000 rifles, and the countries they ended up in also include Russia and South Africa.

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Bangladesh poor selling organs to pay back loans microcredit loans that were meant to lift them out of poverty

Kalai, like many other villages in Bangladesh, appears a rural idyll at first sight. But several villagers here have resorted to selling organs to pay back microcredit loans that were meant to lift them out of poverty. Journalist Sophie Cousins reports on an alarming consequence of the microfinance revolution.They, like millions of other rural Bangladeshis, grow up facing a life of hardship. In an attempt to alleviate poverty, countless numbers take on debt with microcredit lenders, only to find themselves in a difficult situation when they are unable to repay the loan.

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The volume of stocks traded in secret “dark pools” is soaring in Europe. What could go wrong?

The volume of shares traded outside of public exchanges is growing fast in Europe. Trades on so-called “dark pools” jumped 45% over the past six months, according to a new report (pdf) from Fidessa, a technology firm. These off-exchange venues processed €207 billion ($283 billion) in the six months to September, accounting for around 4% of total trading, Fidessa reckons. Others put the market share of dark-pool trading at 7% or 10% across Europe, with the highest percentages in major trading hubs like London.

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China’s Interests in Shaksgam Valley

To date, China occupies more than 20,000 square kilometer of Gilgit-Baltistan covering Shaksgam, Raskam and Aghil valleys. Chinese nationals are once again in the newspapers of Gilgit-Baltistan, this time for smuggling heavy precious metals and gems out of the region. Similar reports also appeared last year when they tried to smuggle uranium, gold and copper from Gilgit-Baltistan. The Chinese model of mineral exploration fails to support Gilgit-Baltistan’s economy since the corporations do not provide jobs to the locals and deny a share in the revenue to the resource-owners.

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Conflict Minerals: Blood on Your Smart Phone or Your Car?

You are reading this on a smartphone, then you are probably holding in your palm the conflict minerals that have sent the biggest manufacturing trade group in the U.S. into a court battle with the Securities and Exchange Commission. At stake in this battle between the National Association of Manufacturers and the government is whether consumers will know the potentially blood-soaked origins of the products they use every day and who gets to craft rules for multinational corporations—Congress or the business itself.

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Waters near Johor and Malacca now world’s top piracy hotbed

The treacherous waters off Somalia used to be the world’s most dangerous marine passageway. That dubious distinction has moved a lot closer to home, with the waters near Johor and Malacca now surpassing Somalia as the top piracy hotbed, according to the Inter­na­tional Maritime Bureau. It attributed this to the rise in piracy off Indonesia’s Tanjung Priok, Dumai, Belawan, Taboneo and Muara Jawa – where the waters have been marked as hot spots.

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Zimbabwe in ‘arms for uranium’ pact with North Korea

Kanyemba district is about 160 miles north of the capital, and is believed to be holding significant uranium reserves, first discovered in the 1970s by German prospectors, but never exploited due to low world prices at the time. Several other countries have sought the rights to mine Zimbabwe’s untapped uranium deposits, and these include Russia, China and a failed bid by neighbouring South Africa and Namibia, as they scramble for the Yellow cake which is a key ingredient needed for the production of nuclear bombs.

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Ukrainian port eyed as Syria’s arms source

The Ocean Fortune, a 380-foot-long workhorse of the global arms trade, left this Black Sea port with unknown cargo concealed in its cavernous hold. The ship steamed south, slipped through the Bosporus Strait and turned toward the eastern Mediterranean. Then it disappeared.The ship’s apparent vanishing act repeated a pattern seen by other freighters embarking from the same Black Sea port — a known point of origin for weapons shipments — over the past year.

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Revealed: Britain sold nerve gas chemicals to Syria 10 months after war began

BRITAIN allowed firms to sell chemicals to Syria capable of being used to make nerve gas, the Sunday Mail can reveal today. Export licences for potassium fluoride and sodium fluoride were granted months after the bloody civil war in the Middle East began. The chemical is capable of being used to make weapons such as sarin, thought to be the nerve gas used in the attack on a rebel-held Damascus suburb which killed nearly 1500 people, including 426 children, 10 days ago.

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How Colombian FARC Terrorists Mining Tungsten Are Linked to Your BMW Sedan

“It’s hard work but worth it,” Garcia says. Amazon Indians like Garcia, who inhabit a Denmark-sized region along the borders with Venezuela and Brazil, have for decades made a living exploring the rain forest for valuable rocks that contain tantalum and tungsten, both of which are used to manufacture smartphones and other mobile devices. While the Indians do the digging, they rely on another, more powerful group to get the ore to market: the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC. The rebel army uses the cash it makes from selling metals to help finance one of the world’s longest-running guerrilla wars.

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Eastern India new smuggling hub

Kolkata, Guwahati and Shillong have of late emerged as India’s new smuggling hub, due to a spurt in trans-border smuggling through Bangladesh, Myanmar and Nepal. According to custom department statistics, the three eastern Indian cities are more preferred as routes for narcotics, arms smuggling and transfusion of contraband notes than even Mumbai, the den of underworld bigwigs. The country recorded a total of 35,500 cases of smuggling and commercial fraud in 2012-13 as compared to 33,251 cases in the previous year, according to Central Board of Excise and Customs (CBEC) statistics.

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Britain pockets billions from selling weapons to rogue states

Britain has issued export licenses worth £$12 billion for the sale of military equipment to states deemed possible rights violators including Syria, Iran and China, lawmakers said. A report by a group of parliamentary panels said 3,000 licenses for arms and other equipment had been issued to those on the Foreign Office’s list of 27 countries of human rights concerns. The countries include Sri Lanka, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Belarus and Zimbawe, the Committees on Arms Export Controls of parliament’s lower House of Commons said.

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Panama stops N. Korean ship, says missile material found

Panama’s president said that a North Korean ship captain tried to kill himself after the vessel was stopped en route from Cuba and found to have suspected missile material on board. Outlining a dramatic sequence of events, President Ricardo Martinelli said the ship was targeted by drug enforcement officials as it approached the Panama Canal and was taken into port, but a search revealed a cargo of far greater concern. The vessel’s estimated 35-man crew also rioted when police stepped aboard, according to Martinelli, who said the suspicious cargo was found within a massive consignment of sugar.

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The Rise of Mexico’s Vigilante Militias: Will They Help or Hurt the Drug War?

Clad in sombreros and baseball caps and clutching assault rifles, shotguns and machetes, the men take defensive positions on a hillside neighborhood of the ramshackle mountain town of Tierra Colorada and gather residents from their homes. You have suffered too much at the hands of kidnappers, extortionists and drug cartels, they tell them. It is time to fight back. “If you are in favor of our community police and want to join or support us, then step forward,” says Esteban Ramos, a leader of the local militia.

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Faux Corporate Directors Stand in for Fraudsters, Despots and Spies

On November 14, 2006, a man going by the name Paul William Hampel was arrested at a Canadian airport on charges of being a Russian spy. Hampel’s carefully constructed identity portrayed him as a successful businessman, yet for a decade his company did no business. Only months before his capture, the same apparatus used to create his alias was also employed by a very different spy agency – the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency —to build a secret prison in Lithuania, where U.S. agents interrogated suspected al-Qaeda terrorists. Earlier again, it was used by the regime of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein to cheat the Oil for Food program.

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‘Golden Triangle’ drug trade reaching highest levels in years

Deep in the lawless mountains of the Golden Triangle, sloping fields of illegal poppies have just been scraped dry for opium. This is the peak season for producing drugs here, and in Myanmar’s nascent era of democratic change, the haul has gotten only bigger.

Opium, its derivative heroin and methamphetamines are surging across Myanmar’s borders in quantities that the United Nations and police in neighboring countries say are the highest levels in years.

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Euro Beware: The Real Threat May Be Bitcoin, The Online “Crypto-Currency”

With all its other problems, the euro is also getting unexpected — and “underground” — competition from a new virtual currency. It’s called the bitcoin, and in case you haven’t heard, it is the most ambitious (and to-date, successful) attempt to create a new online currency, generated by the calculations of thousands of computers. Some say it amounts to a kind of anarchic money.

This week, as the euro crisis has reached Cyprus, the bitcoin (BTC) marked a record high on the largest online exchange, bitcoin.de. The exchange rate has approached 50 euros, more than doubling the value of the virtual currency within four weeks.

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EU makes blood diamonds for bloody democracy offer to Zimbabwe

blood-diamonds

EU countries have said Zimbabwe can start selling diamonds and gold in Europe if it holds democratic elections. The deal – between Belgium, the home of the world’s largest diamond exchange, and the UK, the former colonial power in Zimbabwe – says the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZDMC) will be taken off the EU’s blacklist one month after the vote, expected in July. Belgian foreign minister Didier Reynders told press in Brussels on Monday (18 February) that ZDMC will get off the hook automatically, unless all 27 EU countries agree “the elections have not been peaceful, transparent, credible or they have reasonable grounds to believe ZMDC has been involved in activities undermining democracy during the election.”

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China emerges as smuggling platform for Iranian N-programme

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Iran is using China as a platform to smuggle thousands of specialized magnets for its centrifuges, in an effort to speed its path to reaching nuclear weapons capability, according to a US think-tank.

The report, by a renowned American nuclear scientist, said the operation highlighted the importance of China as a transit point for Iran’s nuclear program, and called for sanctions against any Chinese firms involved. As enforcement efforts have tightened globally,a report, titled ‘Ring Magnet for IR-1 Centrifuges’ by the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), said that China needs to do more to show that it is a responsible member of the global economy.

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Booming Black Market: Illicit Finances Flow in and out of Russia in Post-Soviet Era

black-market

The Russian economy hemorrhaged more than $200 billion to illicit financial outflows from 1994 through 2011, a new research report by Global Financial Integrity found.

The report estimates that Russia’s underground economy comprised about 46% of gross domestic product over the 18-year period. Illicit financial flows drive the domestic underground economy, which includes, among other things, drug smuggling, arms trafficking and human trafficking, the report said.

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Afghanistan’s growing number of child drug addicts

boy_addicted_afghanistan_taking_drugs

They play badminton, kick a ball around and huddle over computer games just like normal children. Except that they are recovering drug addicts aged around three to 12, representing a growing proportion of drug users in war-torn Afghanistan.

In response, increasing numbers of rehabilitation centers are weaning such children off their addiction and giving them a new appetite for life in a country that produces 90 percent of the world’s opium used to make heroin. While there are no statistics for kids, the rate of relapse is high for their parents, experts say.

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Lords of war: Arms trade networks in Yemen, Iran fueling Somalia conflict

Lords of war: Arms trade networks in Yemen, Iran fueling Somalia conflict

Islamist militants in Somalia are receiving arms from Yemen and Iran, Western diplomats told Reuters. Most of the weapons enter Somalia via the two northern autonomous regions of Puntland and Somaliland before being transported south to Al Shabaab rebels. The monitors found the North Korean- and Iran-made weapons at a base of the U.N.-backed African Union (AU) peacekeeping force in Somalia, which raises the question of the possibility of arms smuggling networks operating within the AU force. The weapons are said to include improvised bombs and Russian-designed PK machine guns.

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Duh..: Narco-State Afghan Airline Ferried Opium, U.S. Alleges

afghanistan-opium

The U.S. military has blacklisted Afghanistan’s largest private airline, alleging it is smuggling “bulk” quantities of opium on civilian flights to Tajikistan, a corridor through which the drugs reach the rest of the world.

Kam Air was barred this month from receiving U.S. military contracts by U.S. Central Command chief Marine Gen. James Mattis, according to U.S. military officials. “The U.S. will not do business with those who fund and support illicit activities,” U.S. Army Maj.-Gen. Richard Longo, the commander of Task Force 2010, a coalition anticorruption unit, said in an interview. “Kam Air is too large of a company not to know what has been going on within its organization.”

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Cars, fuel, cigarettes – black market thriving in Syria

syrian-black-market

Endless supplies of cigarettes, a BMW or Mercedes for between $4,000 and $6,000 but fuel at vastly inflated prices – the black market is thriving on the Syria-Turkey border.

“The vehicles come from Switzerland, where my brother is a second hand car dealer,” Abu Ahmad says. “They arrive in Syria legally,” he says, along with shipments of blankets, food and medicines for Syrians who have taken refuge from the country’s civil war in camps along the Turkish border.

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Health Risks: Brazilian cities hit by crack epidemic

Brazilian cities hit by crack epidemic

Glassy-eyed, rail-thin and filthy, hundreds of addicts emerged from doorways and alleys as dusk came to the once-grand Luz district in the heart of this city. After quick transactions with crack dealers, they scrambled for a little privacy to light up their pipes and inhale tiny, highly addictive rocks that go for about $5 each. The image was reminiscent of Washington or New York in the 1980s, when crack cocaine engulfed whole neighborhoods and sparked a dizzying cycle of violence.

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New paramilitary force to battle narco gangsters in Mexico

mexico-new-paramilitary-to-tackle-drug-cartels

President Enrique Pena Nieto laid out a security strategy Monday that creates a new national force, or gendarmerie, to combat organized crime and restore law to the most distant corners of Mexico.

The paramilitary force will be set up with 10,000 members but may grow to 40,000 in coming years, following models like those of Spain’s Civil Guard or the Italian Carabinieri.

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HSBC Mexican Branches Said to Be Drug Traffickers’ Favorites

money-laundering-and-us-banks

HSBC Holdings Plc (HSBA)’s Mexican branches had become so well-known to drug traffickers as the place to launder proceeds from illicit sales that cartels began using special boxes to speed transactions, U.S. prosecutors said.

From 2006 to 2010, the Sinaloa cartel in Mexico and the Norte del Valle Cartel in Columbia moved more than $881 million in proceeds through HSBC’s U.S. unit, said Lanny Breuer, assistant attorney general for the U.S. Justice Department’s criminal division. Breuer, along with U.S. Attorney Lorretta Lynch in Brooklyn, New York, announced yesterday the bank had agreed to pay at least $1.9 billion to settle money laundering probes.

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Russia looks for new buyers of small-arms in North America

Black Market Arms Trade in Russia

This may be the country that gave the world the AK-47 assault rifle, but if you believe Russia still dominates the global small-arms industry, you’d be wrong.

Moscow once funneled huge stockpiles of weapons to its allies during the Cold War, but fierce competition for thinning military sales has driven manufacturers such as Kalashnikov-maker Izhmash, Russia’s largest small-arms producer, to seek out new civilian markets.Now it has its crosshairs on very different markets: Canada and Europe and the United States, the world’s largest market for civilian arms.

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U.S. expands security role in Central America

APphoto_APTOPIX Mexico Protest

Today, as the U.S. forges closer regional alliances, critics worry that it will again team up with unreliable governments and police and military institutions with troubling human rights records, a kind of rerun of the 1980s.

Those concerns have served to limit the expansion of U.S. involvement. That, in turn, has prompted criticism that the U.S. is not doing enough, given the severity of the problems. U.S. officials estimate that 84% of U.S.-bound cocaine passes through Central America.

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Gold and diamond rush fuels dreams in South American borderlands

gold and diamond rush fuels dreams in south american borderlands

We are just north of the Amazon Basin, riding a boat on the Ikabaru River. The passengers are people who buy gold and diamonds. They stop at each of the illegal mines that appear as craters on the river’s edge. They carry small weighing scales that seem very accurate, magnifying loupes, burners to melt the gold and separate the mercury, and some large spoons to collect it. They are also carrying bags full of cash.

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Turkey Top Opium Producer

turkey-largest-legal-opium-producer

Nearly 70,000 Turkish farmers in 13 provinces are allowed to plant opium poppy and produce unscratched opium poppy capsules in a 700 million square meter area, a limit set by the United Nations.

The global consumption of opiate, which is a chemical found naturally in the opium poppy plant and has uses for medical and scientific purposes, is nearly 350 tons per year. The largest importer of this substance, the United States, supplies 80 percent of its imports from Turkey and India.

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Taliban generate 70% of their income off narcotics ‘taxes’

taliban-poppy-cash-crop

The minister said that Pakistan is fighting against narco-terrorism despite having meager resources, adding that “Our nation has suffered losses both in term of human lives and material ($80 billion loss in economy and over 45,000 people have been martyred in terrorist activities).

He said Pakistan is major transit route for Afghan opiates with nearly 160 metric ton of heroin, which makes up 44 per cent of total Afghan heroin which transits through its territorial jurisdictions.

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Heroin replaces gold as preferred commodity regularly smuggled abroad on Pak planes

Around 4.5 kilograms of heroin was seized from a Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) aircraft in Karachi, which was departing for London via Lahore.

“This has happened a hundred times. About 20 years ago, it used to be gold that we used to find in the toilets of aircraft, up to 140, 000 grams of gold at a time, and now we see that it is mostly heroin being smuggled in the toilet compartments,” The Express Tribune quoted Customs spokesperson Qamar Thalho.

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British taxpayer funds helped Zimbabwe dictator Mugabe develop his arsenal

Britain’s arms industry and other companies are to be called before politicians to explain why taxpayer funds ended up helping Robert Mugabe buy five Hawk fighter jets and 1030 police Land Rovers which he later used to suppress dissent.

The bosses of the world’s biggest defence and oil companies, including BAE Systems and BP, will be asked to account for why hundreds of millions of pounds of government money was used to help military dictators build up their arsenals, and facilitated environmental and human rights abuses across the world.

An official inquiry into the government Export Credits Guarantee Department’s underwriting of the loans will begin to call witnesses next week, The Guardian has learnt.

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Sudan at the brink: Hidden hands behind the oil war

Sudan is caught in a multidimensional conflict involving weapons trade, internal instabilities, multiple civil wars and the reality of outside players with their own interests.

None of this is enough to excuse the readiness for war on behalf of Khartoum and Juba, but it certainly presents serious obstacles to any attempt aimed at rectifying the situation.

With a single act of aggression, a whole set of conflicts are prone to flaring up. It is the nature of proxy politics, as many armed groups seek opportunities for territorial advances and financial gains.

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Chinese Regime Indirectly Admits Organ Harvesting: Bioethics Professor

Professor Arthur Caplan heads the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania. He said on Tuesday that China’s Vice Minister of Health Huang Jiefu may have confirmed what some rights group have long suspected—that the Chinese regime has been harvesting organs from imprisoned Falun Gong practitioners as part of the regime’s persecution of the spiritual practice.
Huang acknowledged last week that executed prisoners remained the primary source of organs for the country’s expanding organ transplant industry.
[Professor Arthur Caplan, Director of the Center for Bioethics, University of Pennsylvania]:
“I found it startling, because no one has actually said anything from that official source that high up about the use of prisoners.”

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Narco-States: Africa’s Next Menace

Since emerging as Africa’s first narco-state in the mid 2000s, Guinea Bissau’s slide toward instability has been swift and precipitous. The homicide rate has spiked by 25 percent and is now nearly three times the global average. Meanwhile, poverty levels have remained near the very bottom of world rankings. Over the last five years its score on the well known “Failed States Index” has plunged more than any other country.

Cocaine traffickers, mostly from South America, first visited this sleepy West African country almost a decade ago. Guinea Bissau offered a backdoor route into the booming European cocaine market and was virtually risk free on account of its weak, easily corruptible government agencies. Co-optation, after all, is the preferred method of South America’s drug cartels.

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Security experts admit China stole secret fighter jet plans

CHINESE spies hacked into computers belonging to BAE Systems, Britain’s biggest defence company, to steal details about the design, performance and electronic systems of the West’s latest fighter jet, senior security figures have disclosed.

The Chinese exploited vulnerabilities in BAE’s computer defences to steal vast amounts of data on the $300 billion F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, a multinational project to create a plane that will give the West air supremacy for years to come, according to the sources.

The hacking attack has prompted fears that the fighter jet’s advanced radar capabilities could have been compromised.

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Mercenary Outfit Saracen International Emerges In Somalia

Eight months after SA-linked private military company Saracen International was fingered in a UN Security Council as the “most egregious threat” to peace and security in the failed state of Somalia, Saracen continues to run and train a private army in violation of UN Security Council resolutions.

Saracen, one of a cluster of shadowy private military contractors born from the ashes of the SA/British mercenary outfit Executive Outcomes, after nearly 18 months of military activity in the region, has yet to secure permission to operate as a security provider in a region so volatile Somalia has not had a functioning central government for upwards of 20 years.

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From Baghdad To Bogota, The Gray Zones And Global Reach Of Modern Mercenaries

The Iraqi resistance nicknamed him “Al-Shaitan” (the devil) and put a hefty bounty on his head. In the United States, he has been decorated as a hero. Newspapers there call him the “deadliest sniper in U.S. history.” During his various missions as a Navy SEAL he officially killed 150 people. The Texan himself counts his kills at 255.

These days, however, 37-year-old Chris Kyle is too busy running his own business to add to his “legendary” kill count. In 2009, after completing his military service – with full honors – he founded Craft International, a company that offers private military and security services and specializes in training sharpshooters.

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Maoists luring villagers to grow poppy in Bihar

Maoists have been paying villagers at the rate of Rs.1 lakh per kattha (1,361 sq. feet) for the upkeep of poppy plantations. “This is more than 20 times what farmers earn from paddy, wheat and other cash crops,” a police official told IANS, speaking on condition he was not named.

“There are several undisclosed pockets in rural areas, where the Maoists run a parallel administration. These remain out of reach for police and poppy cultivation is believed to be thriving there,” said an official posted at the police headquarters here.

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HSBC in new US money-laundering inquiry

US officials have run a series of investigations into how big banks have processed transactions involving countries which the US government claims support terrorism as well as those which could involve criminals or potentially corrupt foreign officials. It is not known exactly what the focus of the subcommittee’s inquiries into HSBC is.

The bank yesterday admitted it was holding “ongoing discussions” with US officials over “a number of regulatory and compliance matters”. In a sign it is taking the increasing hard line of US watchdogs seriously it recently named former top US Treasury Department official Stuart Levey (pictured) as its London-based chief legal officer.

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Former Northern China Surgeon Discloses Live Organ Harvesting in China

A Uighur refugee and former surgeon, Enver Tohti, spoke with NTD about how he harvested organs from Uighur prisoners who were still alive. Tohti is the first surgeon to admit to personally performing live organ harvesting—a practice that is believed to be used on prisoners of conscience in China.

At a recent rally in England, Tohti recounted what took place 16 years ago when he was asked to remove organs from an executed prisoner.

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Organ Gangs Force Poor to Sell Kidneys for Desperate Israelis

Aliaksei Yafimau shudders at the memory of the burly thug who threatened to kill his relatives. Yafimau, who installs satellite television systems in Babrujsk, Belarus, answered an advertisement in 2010 offering easy money to anyone willing to sell a kidney.

He saw it as a step toward getting out of poverty. Instead, Yafimau, 30, was thrust into a dark journey around the globe that had him, at one point, locked in a hotel room for a month in Quito, Ecuador, waiting for surgeons to cut out an organ, Bloomberg Markets magazine reports in its December issue.

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Africa, Iran gangs muscle in on SE Asia drug trade, including Malaysia, says UN

International drug gangs from Africa and Iran are muscling in on Southeast Asia’s booming methamphetamine business which has shown a staggering increase and is spreading through the region, the United Nations said in a report today.

Amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS), including amphetamine and methamphetamine, have become the drugs of choice in many parts of Southeast and East Asia since the 1990s, replacing plant-based drugs such as heroin, opium and cannabis, the UN drugs office said.

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Vultures feed when economies are turned into rotting carcasses

Grossman is a “vulture”, the name Wall Street gives, with an affectionate smile, to those who can get their hands on old, forgotten debts of desperately poor nations – Congo, Zambia, Peru and Liberia are cases I’ve investigated – that they pick up for pennies on the pound of face value.

When – usually after a Bono concert – western nations forgive debts owed by these poor countries, the nation receiving this aid is now ripe enough, and flush enough, for attack by a vulture, who demands many a pound of flesh for the debt he suddenly brandishes.

In Grossman’s case, his company paid about $3m for a debt Zaire (now Congo) owed Yugoslavia (now Bosnia). A court on the tiny island of Jersey, a tax haven in the Channel, has ordered Congo to turn over the $80m it has in a bank account there, the payment for the cobalt. Furthermore, Congo must pay an additional $20m to Grossman if the country can find the money.

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Pakistan has 1,339.25 tonnes of gold reserves in Balochistan

Pakistan has 1,339.25 tonnes of gold reserves situated in Balochistan with 63.50 tonnes at Saindak and 1275.75 tonnes at Reko Diq, sources told Daily Times on Monday.

These two major gold reserves are situated in district Chagi, Balochistan. The sources further said the Saindak Copper-Gold Project, Balochistan is the only project in the country, which is producing gold/silver as a by-product in a normal quantity. The gold production was 7.891 tonnes and silver 11.293 tonnes during five years from 2005 to 2009.

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Meth Behind Chinese Deaths In The Golden Triangle?

All of the Chinese victims had been blindfolded, tied up and shot, according to Thai and Chinese media. In their defense, the army officers said they had heard about the assault on the ships by hijackers and later also boarded them, but announced they had discovered 920,000 hidden amphetamine pills and one dead Chinese crew member. A few days later, 12 other Chinese corpses appeared floating in the Mekong, prompting urgent demands by Beijing for Bangkok to investigate the case and punish the killers.

It is a major concern. The murders became a major point of contention between the two countries, with the Chinese suspending all shipping between Thailand and China on the Mekong.

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U.S. and Russia create problems for themselves by supplying arms to third countries

Russia continues to export military hardware to Iran while strictly observing UN Security Council sanctions. The United States behaves similarly, continuing to deliver military hardware to Pakistan, although Washington’s relations with it have soured recently. Selling for profit today regardless of the consequences tomorrow is not a unique situation for some governments.

As part of military technical cooperation, Russia has supplied Iran with 1L222 Avtobaza radioelectronic countermeasure systems and is negotiating another sale of this system, Konstantin Biryulin, deputy director of the Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation, told RIA Novosti. He said that since the equipment concerns defensive arms it does not fall under the Russian president’s decree on joining the sanctions specified by UN Security Council Resolution 1929.

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Inside Bangladesh’s organ trade

Mehdi Hasan’s scar runs in a wide arc from his waist to a point just beneath his rib-cage.

The jagged pink laceration still aches, the 23-year-old says, a daily reminder of the operation he underwent in the capital Dhaka five months ago, in the hopes of raising some quick cash.

In exchange for 60 percent of his liver, an illegal organ broker had promised him 300,000 taka ($3,960) — a royal sum in Bamongram, his small village of mud- brick homes and verdant rice paddies in Bangladesh’s northeast.

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Brazil has thousands working in forced labor: ILO

Thousands of people still toil in forced labor in Brazil, despite government attempts to curtail the practice, the International Labour Organization said in a new report.

Since 1995, more than 40,000 people have been rescued from forced labor, citing field reports from the poor, rural areas in the country’s northeast and interviews with 121 people who were released between 2006 to 2007.

The workers were found to be mostly black males who grew up in poverty, began working as children and had little formal education, said the ILO report.

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Arms smuggling into Syria flourishes: experts

As the revolt in Syria drags on, experts say weapons smuggling into the country has flourished, especially from Lebanon, with automatic weapons, grenades and hunting rifles in high demand.

They say that those behind the trafficking are smugglers in search of quick profits rather than political parties backing protesters against the Alawite-dominated regime in Syria.

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Cheap Mercenaries: Recruits lured into NATO for 500 rubles per day and the iPad

11 young people for two days live at the base near Khabarovsk, and expecting any day now they will start to train with NATO troops, only to join the Alliance troops.

All they found a posting on the Internet about recruitment in NATO, and then signed a contract to train service in the armed forces of NATO. Under this contract, they receive 500 rubles per diem. In addition, the contract states that the most active participant fees will iPad 2.

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U.S. Arms Bahrain While Decrying Russian Weapons in Syria

Peeved at Russia’s Security Council veto derailing a Western- sponsored resolution against Syria last week, U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice implicitly accused the Russians of protecting the beleaguered government of President Bashar al-Assad primarily to safeguard their lucrative arms market in the Middle Eastern country.

But around the same time, the United States was evaluating a 53- million-dollar weapons contract with Bahrain, where political unrest has claimed the lives of 34 people, mostly civilians, at least 1,400 others have been arrested, and more than 3,600 dismissed from their jobs for participating in street demonstrations demanding a democratic government.

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Chinese sailors killed in ‘Golden Triangle’

At least 11 Chinese sailors were killed when their ships were attacked on the Mekong River between Thailand and Myanmar, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said, voicing concern about what media reports said appeared to be an assault by drug smugglers.

The sailors were on two cargo ships attacked on Wednesday in the “Golden Triangle” of the Mekong, a region of Southeast Asia notorious for narcotic production, the Foreign Ministry said on its website late on Sunday.

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Spain’s stolen baby scandal

Antonio Barroso cried himself to sleep every night until he was 12, haunted, he says, by a taunt from other children: “Your mother isn’t your real mother.”

He asked his mother repeatedly, and even secretly checked his official birth certificate. But she insisted, and the documents confirmed, he was her son.

It wasn’t until 2008, when he was 38, that he discovered the lie: He was stolen from his biological parents and sold into adoption.

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Belarus: Trading Political Prisoners for Loans

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko is releasing political prisoners in hope of getting loans from the IMF. After the unexpected pardons over recent weeks, only about a dozen political prisoners remain in Belarusian jails. Among them are Lukashenko’s rivals in the December 2010 presidential elections, serving up to six years of hard labour.

Insiders warn that this is not a thaw, just a new step in the regime’s strategy. One of the released dissidents, Alexander Atroshchanko, has said prison authorities were openly calling the inmates “hostages” and “commodities” to be traded for loans.

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Death before pay for CIA’s Air America

The United States Directorate of National Intelligence (DNI) has again refused to recommend paying federal retirement benefits to the surviving employees of Air America, despite overwhelming evidence the legendary secret airline was created, controlled and funded by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) during 25 years of service in Indochina.

In a long-delayed report to the US Congress in late July, the DNI said granting retirement benefits and civil service status would “undermine national security proprietaries, creating a costly precedent for granting such benefits to other proprietary employees and would not stand legal or public scrutiny”.

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Colombian intelligence agency’s latest scandal: leaking docs to drug lord

Colombia’s scandal-ridden intelligence service, the DAS, is alleged to have passed on high value information to one of the region’s most wanted drug lords, in what is only the latest case of apparent collusion between the agency and the country’s underworld.

According to newsweekly Semana, the Administrative Department of Security (Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad – DAS) has lost control of its own database. A collection of intelligence documents, including lists naming hundreds of undercover agents deployed across the country, was leaked to the publication, which has included censored snapshots of the “top secret” memos. They reportedly include the identity, mission, and home addresses of hundreds of detectives and informants.

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Afghan Children Being Sold Into Forced Labor

Endemic poverty in parts of Afghanistan is forcing many poor families to sell their children in order to survive, RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan reports.

Human rights officials say dire economic conditions have forced many families in the northern Jawzjan Province — one of the most undeveloped regions in Afghanistan — to sell their kids.

The International Save the Children Alliance, an NGO dedicated to eradicating child labor worldwide, said in a 2010 report that some 28 percent of all children between the ages of 5-15 in Jawzjan have been sold by their parents or guardians.

Farid, a 4-year-old boy in Jawzjan, was sold to a relative eight months ago following the death of his father. His mother, who remarried, received 12,000 Afghanis ($280) for her son with the expectation that he would work for the relative.

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NATO-backed local police terrorising Afghans

Murder, torture, illegal taxes, theft and the gang rape of a teenage boy are among the abuses by government-backed militias, and the NATO-funded Afghan local police, documented in the 102-page report, “Just Don’t Call It a Militia.”

The groups were formed in response to Afghanistan’s downward security spiral, aiming to capitalise on a basic instinct to protect local communities — much like Iraq’s Awakening Council that helped turn the tide of the Iraq war.

But a lack of training, vetting, oversight and accountability means armed groups are adding another worry to the lives of ordinary Afghans already struggling with a war that this year has claimed a record number of civilian lives.

“Kabul and Washington need to make a clean break from supporting abusive and destabilising militias to have any hope of a viable, long-term security strategy,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

“Poor governance, corruption, human rights abuses, and impunity for government-affiliated forces all are drivers of the insurgency.”

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Vietnam Accused of Abusing Drug Addicts

The Vietnamese government calls it labor therapy, a program to move drug addicts off the streets and into treatment centers, where they process cashew nuts, sew garments, weave baskets — any work that might help them get back on their feet.

But a report released Wednesday by Human Rights Watch says that labor therapy is nothing more than sweatshop servitude in the guise of a social program.

Drug addicts are paid little or nothing for their work and are subject to beatings with truncheons, electric shocks and solitary confinement, says the report, which was based on interviews with 34 people who were detained as part of the program. Some of the products made in the treatment centers are destined for export to the United States and Europe.

“Forced labor and physical abuse are not an adjunct to drug dependency treatment in Vietnam,” the report says. “Rather, they are central to how the centers operate.”

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China squeeze drives boom in ‘black’ banks

More than 7,300 companies in Zhejiang were forced to close from January to April this year due to Beijing’s monetary tightening measures, according to People’s Daily newspaper.

Zhejiang has about 2.4 million non-state companies with an output valued at more than 1.5 million yuan, and abounds with underground banks for cash-strapped small businesses. About 600 billion yuan flows through the province’s underground banking system a year, state media report.

Dodgy lenders are particularly active in Wenzhou, a Zhejiang town that has boomed over the past three decades by producing a wide range of consumer goods – from shoes, cigarette lighters to spectacles – whose low cost has helped to make China the world’s workshop.

Of the Wenzhou’s 360,000 SMEs, 30% have cut back operations or closed their doors so far this year, said Cai. State media have carried reports of some SMEs borrowing from underground lenders at annualized rates of up to 120%.

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Thailand’s forced labour and human trafficking rising

Thailand faces a rise in human trafficking, a United Nations expert said, urging the country to fight the corruption blamed for the problem.

Joy Ezeilo, speaking in Bangkok at the end of a 12-day trip, said she found that “internal trafficking in children is rampant” and that migrant, stateless and refugee children are most vulnerable.

“Root causes of trafficking, particularly demands for cheap and exploitative labor provided by migrant workers, are not being effectively addressed,” she said.

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