“Policing such terrain is a challenge for any country, made even greater when resources are limited,” UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa told Western and Central African ministers at a session of the UN Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice in Vienna, calling for increased technical assistance.“The international community must act to prevent a further deterioration of the situation that could destabilize the entire region and have a dangerous spill-over effect,” he said. “Countries where these goods are headed should also do more to reduce the demand that is fuelling this dangerous trade.”He noted that criminals were also exploiting the region’s rich natural resources, and that the overall situation provided a lucrative source of funding for rebels, anti-government forces and terrorists in a vast inhospitable and remote area stretching across the width of Africa, where nomads and traders have for centuries moved back and forth across borders.Some countries like Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger have thousands of kilometres of almost open frontiers.Not only is this a threat to security, but also a drain on development. Badly-needed resources are being shifted away from education and health care into security. In one country alone, resources spent on border security and crime fighting last year were sufficient to have built 600 schools and health centres.“These countries are being targeted by smugglers because they are vulnerable, and criminal activity is making them even more vulnerable,” Mr. Costa said. “We must break this vicious circle.”Among needs identifies for technical assistance were counter-narcotics, criminal justice reform, anti-corruption, border management, intelligence sharing, terrorism prevention and the battle against the illicit arms trade.Counties represented at the meeting included Burkina Faso, Chad, Cape Verde, Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Mauritania, Togo, Niger and Senegal. 15 April 2008Smuggling routes in the sub-Saharan Sahel region of Africa that were traditionally used for cigarettes, arms and illegal migrants are now becoming highways for cocaine, heroin and hashish, with kidnapping and banditry rife, the United Nations chief crime fighter warned today.