Pubdate: Mon, 11 Feb 2002
Source: Associated Press (Wire)
Copyright: 2002 Associated Press
Author: Ellen Knickmeyer, The Associated Press


KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - Opium vendors shut their open-air market
Monday under what they said were U.S. military orders - becoming first
targets in a campaign against Afghanistan's post-Taliban drug boom.

The closure - which was welcomed by U.N. drug authorities - marked the
first concrete effort by Hamid Karzai's interim government to keep
Afghanistan from reclaiming its 1990s title as the world's leading
opium supplier.

``The special forces, they told us, ``Stop the opium business - no
more,''' said vendor Mohammed Wali, scrubbing the sticky residue of
years in the opium trade from the walls of his shop, and contemplating
a new life selling carrots.

Afghan security patrols, moving in bands down the narrow dirt streets
of the market, looked on, seeing to compliance with the ban.

Kandahar, Afghanistan's second-largest city, is a key transit point
for raw opium on its way from the fields of red opium poppies to
illicit factories inside and outside Afghanistan that refine the resin
for sale as heroin.

Kandahar and the southern provinces around it produced 85 percent of
Afghanistan's opium in the 1990s.

Taliban edicts cut production dramatically in 2000 and 2001, but
farmers made desperate by poverty aggravated by drought and war have
rushed to plant the cash crop once again since the Taliban fell.

Karzai - pressed by the United States and other Western nations -
outlawed all production, trafficking and sale of narcotics in December.

Enforcement, however, had been hard to spot until now. Word of the ban
was slow even to reach remote provinces.

In Vienna, Austria, a spokesman for the U.N. Drug Control and Crime
Prevention office hailed the move to shut down the opium vendors.

``I would hope ... that the international community will help Afghanis
to set up functioning law enforcement capacity - including drug
control,'' Kemal Kuhrspahic said. Such an effort would also include
help for farmers who earn big money by planting opium poppies, he said.

``What we would like to see is ways to prevent the harvest from
reaching the market,'' Kuhrspahic said.

Kandahar provincial officials promised a tractor brigade in coming
weeks to plough under all fields planted with poppies - but said sales
of ``medicinal amounts'' - defined as about 2.2 pounds of opium, would
continue to be allowed in Kandahar city itself.

Last week, opium dealers said, American special forces appeared at
their open storefronts on the city's opium lane - telling them their
dealing days were done.

Americans told vendors to clean the walls of their shops - dealers
traditionally throw balls of the stuff on the walls, to make clear
what's on offer there. '``Change your business,'' Mohammed Wali
recalled them saying.

``The special forces have come every day since,'' said Noor Ullah,
likewise purging his walls of raw opium. Dealers, who said previously
opium sales were the only way they could feed their families, said
they might go into selling vegetables.

Kandahar's police chief and his forces came later to the market's
opium lane to reinforce the message, and local radio repeated the
order to get out of the business.

There was no comment from the U.S. military operation. Army spokesman
Maj. A.C. Roper of the 101st Airborne Division, based at the nearby
airport, said he could not comment on special forces operations.
Special forces soldiers rarely speak with reporters.

Also Monday, American officials said U.S. troops have found the site
of a missile strike by a CIA-operated Predator drone and collected
forensic evidence to determine who was killed. The U.S. officials said
they believe the dead may be al-Qaida members, but local authorities
say the victims were Afghan civilians.

The Pentagon defended the Feb. 4 Hellfire missile strike, with Adm.
John Stufflebeem saying Monday that those killed ``were not
- ---
MAP posted-by: Derek