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Afghan opium cultivation up 60 percent

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    Afghan opium cultivation up 60 percent By MATTHEW PENNINGTON, Associated Press Afghanistan s world-leading opium cultivation rose a staggering 60 percent
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 6, 2006
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      Afghan opium cultivation up 60 percent
      Associated Press

      Afghanistan's world-leading opium cultivation rose a "staggering" 60
      percent this year, the U.N. anti-drugs chief announced Saturday in
      urging the government to crack down on big traffickers and remove
      corrupt officials and police.

      The record crop yielded 6,100 tons of opium, or enough to make 610
      tons of heroin — outstripping the demand of the world's heroin users
      by a third, according to U.N. figures.

      Officials warned that the illicit trade is undermining the Afghan
      government, which is under attack by Islamic militants that a U.S.-led
      offensive helped drive from power in late 2001 for harboring Osama bin
      Laden and al-Qaida bases.

      "The news is very bad. On the opium front today in some of the
      provinces of Afghanistan, we face a state of emergency," Antonio Maria
      Costa, chief of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, said at a news
      conference. "In the southern provinces, the situation is out of control."

      He talked with reporters after presenting results of the U.N. survey
      to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who voiced "disappointment" over the
      figures. "Our efforts to fight narcotics have proved inadequate,"
      Karzai said in a statement.
      With the economy struggling, there are not enough jobs and many
      Afghans say they have to grow opium poppies to feed their families.
      The trade already accounts for at least 35 percent of Afghanistan's
      economy, financing warlords and insurgents.

      The top U.S. narcotics official here said the opium trade is a threat
      to the country's fledgling democracy.

      The bulk of the opium increase was in lawless Helmand province, where
      cultivation rose 162 percent and accounted for 42 percent of the
      Afghan crop. The province has been wracked by the surge in attacks by
      Taliban-led militants that has produced the worst fighting in five years.

      Opium-growing increased despite the injection of hundreds of millions
      of dollars in foreign aid to fight the drug over the past two years.
      Costa criticized the international effort and said foreign aid was
      "plagued by huge overhead costs" in its administration.

      Costa said Afghanistan's insecurity is fueling the opium boom, saying
      he has pleaded with the NATO force that took over military operations
      in the south a month ago to take a "stronger role" in fighting drugs.
      NATO says it has no mandate for direct involvement in the anti-drug

      "We need much stronger, forceful measures to improve security or
      otherwise I'm afraid we are going to face a dramatic situation of
      failed regions, districts and even perhaps even provinces in the near
      future," Costa said.

      The U.N. report, based on satellite imagery and ground surveys, said
      the area under poppy cultivation in Afghanistan reached 407,700 acres
      in 2006, up from 257,000 acres in 2005. The previous high was 323,700
      acres in 2004.

      The estimated yield of 6,100 tons of opium resin — described by Costa
      as "staggering" — is up from 4,100 tons last year, and exceeds the
      previous high for total global output of 5,764 tons recorded in 1999.

      Last year, about 450 tons of heroin was consumed worldwide, 90 percent
      of it from Afghanistan, according to the U.N.

      The report will increase pressure on the beleaguered Afghan president.
      Karzai has often talked tough on drugs, even declaring a "holy war"
      against the trade, but he is increasingly criticized for appointing
      and failing to sack corrupt provincial governors and police.

      Costa urged the arrest of "serious drug traffickers" to fill a new
      high-security wing for narcotics convicts at Kabul's Policharki
      prison. "It has 100 beds. We want these beds to be taken up in the
      next few months," he said.

      At the same news conference, the Afghan counternarcotics minister,
      Habibullah Qaderi, said the government had the will to make arrests,
      but lacked the capacity to gather evidence to prosecute "the big fish."

      Yet he maintained that with its newly unveiled national anti-drugs
      strategy, Afghanistan could "control" drug production within five years.

      Costa was less upbeat. "It's going to take possibly 20 years to get
      rid of the problem," he said, citing the experience of former opium
      producers like Thailand, Turkey and Pakistan.

      In an indication of the alarming extent of official complicity in the
      trade, a Western counternarcotics official said about 25,000 to 30,000
      acres of government land in Helmand was used to cultivate opium
      poppies this year.
      The official, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of
      the issue, said police and government officials are involved in
      cultivating poppies, providing protection for growers or taking bribes
      to ensure the crops aren't destroyed.

      He said the Taliban managed to nearly eradicate Afghanistan's poppy
      crop in 2001, just before their ouster for giving refuge to Osama bin

      In some instances, drug traffickers have provided vehicles and money
      to the Taliban to carry out attacks, he said. But added that the ties
      seem to be local and that there is no evidence of coordination between
      drug lords and the Taliban leadership.


      14 Brit troops die in Afghan plane crash

      The Age A plane crashed in southern Afghanistan killing 14 British
      troops in the worst loss of life for the NATO-led security force since
      it began its mission to tame insurgents in the volatile region a month
      ago, witnesses and officials said. A purported Taliban spokesman
      claimed its militia shot the plane down in Kandahar province with a
      Stinger missile, but British Defence Secretary Des Browne said the
      crash appeared to be "a terrible accident". A NATO statement said th!
      e plane had reported a technical problem before crashing (...) Shortly
      after the crash, a purported spokesman for the Taliban, Abdul Khaliq,
      claimed responsibility, but it was impossible to independently verify
      the claim. "We used a Stinger missile to shoot down the aircraft," he
      said in a phone call to The Associated Press...

      Read the full article / Leggi l'articolo completo:


      15 militants killed in volatile S Afghanistan :

      At least 15 insurgents have been killed by the NATO-led International
      Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan's volatile southern
      Helmand province, a local official told Xinhua on Tuesday.




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