22 May 2008 - Over the last decade, criminal organizations have increasingly smuggled Afghan heroin through Central Asia. To counter the illicit drug trafficking, UNODC recently launched the Central Asian Regional Information and Coordination Centre (CARICC). Lieutenant General Beksultan Sarsekov, Director of the Centre, spoke to Galina Fomaidi from UNODC's Regional Office in Central Asia about the initiative.
What is CARICC and what do you hope to achieve?
CARICC's main goal is to promote cooperation among law enforcement agencies in the region to enhance counter-narcotic activities. To this end, CARICC will serve as the region's main centre for information exchange and analysis on transnational crime as well as a centre for the coordination of joint operations. The Centre is in Almaty, Kazakhstan.
So far, cooperation has only existed between similar agencies ; police in one country, with police in another. Our task is to make sure that any agency engaged in counter-narcotic activities - be it customs, border control or specialised drug agencies - can cooperate with any agency in another country if and when need be.
What are some of the issues you are facing?
Presently, the Centre is in a pilot phase. For it to become fully operational, at least four countries must ratify the CARICC Agreement. Turkmenistan has already done so, while Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are in the process of ratification. Russia has yet to sign the Agreement but we have been told they will do so shortly. Any country interested in joining, can do so. Afghanistan's involvement, initially with observer status, is under consideration.
As part of this process, we've travelled to Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan and met with law enforcement and specialized agencies to discuss ways of cooperating, establishing secure communication channels and developing joint operations.
The Centre is still small. As we grow, personnel will be subjected to regular checks to ensure that only the most qualified and competent officers are selected. If personnel integrity isn't prioritized, none of the countries will trust the Centre with sensitive information. Any information leak would have serious consequences.
What is CARICC focusing on now?
Our main task is to collect and analyse information on drug-related issues. We regularly issue bulletins to provide updates on drug seizures, drug trafficking routes, methods of concealment and criminal activities. CARICC members and our partners in Asia, North America, Europe and Australia have expressed great interest in these bulletins, which we publish in English and Russian.
We also have liaison officers seconded from Member States whose role is to ensure cooperation between CARICC and the competent authorities in the respective country. At present, we have liaison officers from Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan. All are highly qualified; for instance, the officer from Tajikistan is a major general. Such high-level appointees allow for the efficient resolution of issues related to the coordination of counter-narcotic activities. We've already achieved results thanks to this collaboration: five drug trafficking channels were identified, drug traffickers were arrested and over 100 kilograms of heroin were seized.
What are your relations with international law enforcement organizations?
We have established good contacts with INTERPOL and have access to some of their databases. INTERPOL plans to establish a liaison office at CARICC as soon as the Agreement enters into force. We're also planning a visit to EUROPOL to learn about their experience; the Centre was modelled after EUROPOL.
We're making contact with the World Customs Organization and are ready to collaborate with organizations such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, and the Economic Cooperation Organization. China, the USA, and some European countries have also expressed keen interest in our activities. We are ready to cooperate.
We're glad to see that the CARICC experience is already being used in other regions of the world. The Gulf States are establishing a similar centre and are using the CARICC as a model.