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


KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - Opium vendors shut their open-air market Monday 
under what they said were U.S. military orders.

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 

"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.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom