BAMAKO - Malian security forces on Wednesday were hunting a group of drug dealers from Mali, Niger and the Polisario Front ferrying a tonne of cocaine and hashish through the desert, a top Malian army official said.
"We have deployed the necessary troops to track a ton of drugs and the traffickers who have turned part of the Malian desert into a drug market and corridor," said Lieutenant Moussa Diakité from northern Mali.
Diakité said the drug consignment had led to a dispute between two drug networks, one from the Sahel made up of Mali and Niger traffickers, and one from the Sahara with traffickers linked to the Western Saharan independence movement Polisario Front.
A government source said on Tuesday that four people were killed in the desert between Mali and Algeria in a clash between the rival gangs, who did not agree on how to share the spoils from their haul. The same source noted that the traffickers’ photos had been obtained and distributed in the region.
Gangs of drug traffickers, some with ties to the local Al-Qaeda branch and Polisario Front, ply their trade in the vast desert through Algeria, Mauritania, Mali and Niger, with drugs passing through camps in Western Sahara, experts say.
The Polisario Front, supported by Algeria, has demanded that a self-determination vote be held in the territory which Morocco occupied in 1976 after Spanish colonists withdrew. Morocco is only ready to offer greater autonomy.
Posirario’s refugee camps have become hotbeds of drug trafficking and recruitment of al-Qaeda fighters in North Africa.
The war raging in Libya between Moamer Gathafi loyalists and rebels raised concern in the region due to leakage of large quantities of weapons to the gangs that control the remote desert areas.
Tensions have risen between Libya’s National transitional Council and Algeria after rebels captured 556 mercenariesof the Polisario Front movement, who have been fighting for Moamer Gathafi.