Pubdate: Thu, 27 Apr 2001
Source: International Herald-Tribune (France)
Section: News; Pg. 7
Copyright: International Herald Tribune 2001
Author: Barbara Crossette, New York Times Service


2 Narcotics Experts Join International Team To Help Farmers

United Nations, New York -- In a first cautious step toward reducing the 
near-total isolation of the Taleban, the Bush administration has sent two 
U.S. narcotics experts to Afghanistan as part of an international team 
assessing how to help farmers who have ended opium poppy cultivation, 
according to UN officials.

Secretary of State Colin Powell confirmed that he had approved the trip in 
a letter last week to Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Although the experts 
have no plans to meet the top leadership of the Taleban, they will meet 
with farmers and local officials.

UN narcotics officials reported earlier this year that it appeared that the 
Taleban, a militant Islamic group that controls most of Afghanistan, had 
all but wiped out poppy crops under a ban announced last year. U.S. drug 
experts have begun their own survey and expect to have final results by 
early summer. Until this year, Afghanistan was the world's largest producer 
of opium, the source of much of the heroin sold in Europe.

The Clinton administration had opposed projects to assist Afghans in a 
drug-eradication program. U.S. policy had been to isolate the Taleban and 
punish them through UN sanctions because of their refusal to turn over 
Osama bin Laden, the Saudi-born Islamic militant wanted in connection with 
bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa. The United States may now have a 
less rigid policy.

"The United States is prepared to fund a United Nations International Drug 
Control Program proposal in Afghanistan to assist former poppy cultivators 
hard hit by the ban," General Powell wrote to Mr. Annan on April 16. 
"However, we want to ensure that assistance benefits the farmers, not the 
factions, while it also curbs the Afghan drug trade. I have authorized U. 
S. participation in a UNDCP-led mission to Afghanistan to assess the 
potential for assistance and the cooperation of local authorities."

UN narcotics officials say that while it is too soon to talk about a 
longterm program with the Taleban, which has little international 
credibility, there is an urgent and immediate need to give aid to farmers 
now approaching the "hunger season" if opium poppy planting is not to 
resume in coming months.

General Powell's decision to support a visit to the country by experts is 
being welcomed by the United Nations as an important step in garnering 
wider international support for a program that envisages the introduction 
of alternative crops, agricultural help and aid in establishing industries 
in rural areas. "We are moving in a positive direction," a drug control 
expert said.

The two Americans - James Callahan, the State Department's director of 
Asian and African narcotics programs, and Thomas Schrettner, a Drug 
Enforcement Administration officer based in Islamabad, Pakistan - are part 
of a team of drug specialists and diplomats from Belgium, Britain, Canada, 
Germany and the Netherlands.
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