HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html U.S. Sends 2 To Assess Drug Program For Afghans
Pubdate: Wed, 25 Apr 2001
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2001 The New York Times Company
Section: Section A; Page 5; Column 1; Foreign Desk
Author: Barbara Crossette


In a first cautious step toward reducing the near-total isolation of the 
Taliban, the Bush administration has sent two American narcotics experts to 
Afghanistan as part of an international team assessing how to help farmers 
who have ended opium poppy cultivation, United Nations officials said today.

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

United Nations narcotics officials reported earlier this year that it 
appeared that the Taliban, a militant Islamic group that controls most of 
Afghanistan, had all but wiped out poppy crops under a ban announced last 
year. American 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 United Nations Drug Control Program had met resistance from the Clinton 
administration to any projects to assist Afghans in a drug-eradication 
program. American policy had been to isolate the Taliban and punish them 
through United Nations sanctions because of their refusal to turn over 
Osama bin Laden, the Saudi-born Islamic militant wanted in connection with 
bombings of two American 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 U.N.D.C.P.-led mission to Afghanistan to assess the 
potential for assistance and the cooperation of local authorities."

United Nations narcotics officials say that while it is too soon to talk 
about a long-term program with the Taliban, there is an urgent need to help 
farmers now approaching the "hunger season" if opium poppy planting is not 
to resume.

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 aid and help in establishing industries 
in rural areas.

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.

Their visit to Afghanistan is taking place as Mr. Annan reiterates his 
warning to the Security Council that the future of Afghanistan is very 
bleak, given the prolonged war there and a recent drought. In a report to 
the council on Monday, he drew attention to qualms United Nations officials 
have about sanctions when more than half a million Afghans have been 
displaced by hunger and many have died of starvation, cold or 
malnutrition-related illnesses.

Sanctions, he wrote to the Council, "cannot be an end in themselves." He 
also said that the decision by the United States to shut down the Taliban's 
office in New York had led to Taliban threats to close United Nations 
offices in Afghanistan and the disruption of peace talks that began last 
year. Increasingly, he said, the group is dominated by "more radical elements."

Today United Nations officials announced a new round of talks with the 
Afghan leadership. In Berlin, Ruud Lubbers, the high commissioner for 
refugees, said he would travel to Afghanistan, and called for a cease-fire 
between the Taliban and their armed opponents so that the needs of refugees 
could be assessed and aid distributed.
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