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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea June 28, 2000 - Post-Courier/PINA Nius Online)---Papua New Guinea serves as a large domestic and international market with locally cultivated marijuana fetching a lucrative K 300 (US$ 123.15) a kilogram (2.2046 pounds), said a senior government minister.

Police Minister Mathias Karani said the booming business lured many coffee, tea and vegetable farmers into cultivating marijuana.

"PNG is known internationally for growing and producing very high quality marijuana or spak brus, commonly known as Niugini Gold, which has a potency far above marijuana grown in many other countries," he said.

"Drug trafficking is being heavily conducted particularly in Western and West Sepik provinces, which share common borders with Australia and Indonesia," he added.

He said drugs were changing hands for high-powered guns and ammunition for use in tribal warfare in the Highlands region.

The minister made the remarks yesterday to mark the occasion of the International Day Against Illicit Drug Trafficking.

The National Narcotics Bureau and schools in Port Moresby observed the day with the highlight being the launch of a "Music Against Drugs" campaign by Rising Star Studios.

The company has agreed to carry the slogan "Turn on Music, Turn off Drugs" on all cassette covers it produces as its contribution to the awareness campaign.

Mr. Karani noted that while the cultivation and distribution of marijuana had been predominantly in the Highlands region, there had been an increase in production in Tapini in Central Province.

"Marijuana is now conveyed by air, land and sea to all major coastal centers around PNG. Cannabis from the Highlands region is conveyed to the international ports of Wewak and Madang, and on land to the south through Gulf Province and more recently through the Western Province," he said.

He said marijuana from the Highlands was also shipped from Lae to other destinations such as Milne Bay and Port Moresby and to the New Guinea Islands.

According to Mr. Karani a recent international operation which resulted in the seizure of cannabis in a container in North Queensland confirmed that Lae was being used as a point for shipment.

The minister said there was evidence to show that stronger drugs such as heroin, amphetamine and cocaine were being brought into PNG through Asia and Australia.

He said youths were prime targets for drug pushers and called for a concerted effort from the Government, communities and families to rid the country of drugs and create a safe environment for the children.

Meanwhile, National Narcotics Control Board chairman Sam Bonner noted that "despite the seriousness and urgency of the drug related problems in the country, the bureau was working at a snail's pace.''

He attributed this to acute staff shortage, lack of professional manpower, lack of funding and limited financial support from the Government.

Mr. Bonner urged Mr. Karani to push for the proposed Substances Bill to be passed in Parliament this year.

This bill would adequately incorporate all drug laws under one Act, enabling the bureau and other law enforcing agencies to co-ordinate drug abuse and illicit trafficking activities.

For additional reports from The Post-Courier, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The Post-Courier (Papua New Guinea).

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: http://www.pinanius.org 

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