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By Verenaisi Raicola

SUVA, Fiji Islands (April 19, 2002 - The Fiji Times/PINA Nius Online)---Indigenous Fijians made up 74 percent of 379 drug offenders prosecuted in 2000, according to the latest police statistics.

Although the statistics showed a slight decline from the previous year, this may have been due to a lack of policing because of the coup crisis that year.

The analysis revealed that of 379 drug offenders, 74 percent were Fijians, 20 percent ethnic Indians, five percent others and one per cent tourists.

The majority were aged 25 and over but children as young as 13 were also arrested.

Drug offenses continued to rise because of lack of awareness of their dangers, according to Sergeant Anare Masitabua, of the Police Drug Unit.

He said that although the force set up an awareness unit, a lack of resources continued to hinder implementation of its programs.

Mr. Masitabua said younger offenders were either turning to drugs to experiment or forced by peer pressure.

"Most of the young offenders did not know what they were putting themselves into. Some have been influenced because of wrong messages,'' he said.

Mr. Masitabua said the decline in the number of offenders in 2000 did not indicate there were fewer people using drugs.

"The decline in 2000 could be attributed to the focus on security in the country because of the coup and not because there were fewer offenders,'' he said.

Mr. Masitabua said unless there is more awareness the public will not be able to assist the police in their efforts to control drug problems in Fiji.

At the moment, the force has only five narcotics officers based in Suva.

Mr. Masitabua said although a custodial sentence was a warning to some, a rehabilitation center would serve a more useful purpose.

"We have the custodial sentences passed on to drug offenders but the problem may only improve if there is a proper rehabilitation center where people could drop in for counseling and treatment,'' he said.

Mr. Masitabua said the problem is more worrying as younger offenders join the statistics.

For additional reports from the Fiji Times, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Fiji Times.

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: 

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