Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Hang-gliding heroin smuggler is shot down

Times Online

A hang-gliding heroin smuggler has been shot down by soldiers over the border between Afghanistan and Tajikistan, one of the world's busiest drug trafficking frontiers.

Tajik border guards shot the glider down with machine guns and recovered 18kg (39lb) of heroin from the vehicle, officials said.

There are conflicting reports about the nature of the glider, with some sources saying it was a hang-glider and others reporting that it was a para-glider with a small, improvised engine.

Tajik authorities said that the pilot escaped when the glider came down about 230km (142 miles) south east of Dushanbe, the capital of the former Soviet republic, whose landscape is almost entirely made up of mountains and deep, narrow gorges.

"The pilot was most likely injured and hid himself in a mountain area on the Tajik border," Sabza Sarkorov, the deputy chairman of the Tajik Committee for State Border Protection, told Agence France Presse.

"An investigation is under way to determine the country of origin of the paraglider and the citizenship of its pilot."

The airborne trafficker is thought to be a repeat offender. One border official said guards had been trying to shoot the vehicle down for three years.

The wild and rugged border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan is an important stage in the world heroin trade. Until the end of 2004, it was patrolled by Russian soldiers but since the beginning of this year, Tajik guards, most of them former Soviet troops, have taken over two thirds of the frontier.

Tajik authorities say they have intercepted more than 800kg of heroin this year, a fraction of the enormous quantities of the drug that are made in Afghanistan, which is thought to supply 90 per cent of the world's opium.

The current world record for para-gliding in a straight line is 423km. Hang-gliders can go even further. Manfred Ruhmer, an Austrian flier, flew 700km in July 2001.


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