Pubdate: Sat, 11 May 2002
Source: Associated Press (Wire)
Copyright: 2002 Associated Press
Author: Marvin Hokstam, Associated Press


PHILIPSBURG, St. Maarten - Curacao-based Dutch Caribbean Airline will begin 
screening passengers before they buy tickets in an effort to stop drug 
smuggling on flights to the Netherlands, the justice minister said.

The agreement signed Friday by Antillean Justice Minister Rutsel Martha and 
Dutch Caribbean chief executive officer Mario Evertsz, lets the airline 
prohibit passengers from buying a ticket who have previous drug trafficking 
convictions or are otherwise considered suspicious by Antillean authorities.

It goes a step further than an April arrangement between KLM and the 
Antillean government, which screens people just before boarding.

KLM began preflight screening on April 15 after chief executive officer Leo 
van Wijk threatened to stop flying to Curacao because of problems with drug 
smugglers. Days before the agreement, a passenger died on an April 5 flight 
when a cocaine-filled condom burst in his stomach.

Customs officials have arrested 337 suspected "drug mules" in Curacao this 
year. Last year, drug smugglers arrested as they tried to board flights in 
Curacao were carrying more than 2,000 kilograms (4,400 pounds) of cocaine.

KLM now sends a passenger list to the police about an hour before each 
flight. The police recommends which passengers to reject, and those 
rejected are refunded.

Martha said that since last week Dutch Caribbean travel agents have an 
online connection with Ministry of Justice. The agents will provide daily 
reports of each person that booked a flight and the ministry will recommend 
which should be allowed to travel.

Airline officials were not available to comment Saturday.

"Doing this prevents potential drug traffickers from traveling to Holland. 
If said person is rejected, (the airline) doesn't have to pay back any 
money either," Marta said Friday.

This method will apply to people who book their flight more than a month 
ahead. Shorter notice bookings will undergo screening at the airport.

KLM airline has turned away hundreds of passengers for flights from Curacao 
to Amsterdam under new screening for drug smugglers that has led to scores 
of no-shows and 24 arrests this week.
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