HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Poppy Harvesting Begins In Afghanistan
Pubdate: Thu, 11 Apr 2002
Source: Frontier Post, The (Pakistan)
Copyright: 2002 The Frontier Publications (Pvt)


ESSAZAI KILI (Agencies): Some poppy farmers in Afghanistan's biggest 
opium-producing region have started harvesting this year's crop early in 
hopes of finishing before the government moves to destroy their 
narcotic-bearing plants."We're in a hurry.

We're afraid the government will come and eradicate our fields," village 
chief Mohammed Agha said Tuesday.

His workers were slitting the green poppy bulbs and collecting the milky 
opium resin 10 days ahead of harvest time.

The accelerated efforts of Agha and his laborers signal how difficult it 
will be for the weak Afghan government to carry out a U.N.-backed plan to 
wipe out Afghanistan's poppy crop, once the source of 70 percent of the 
world's opium.

The narcotic is the raw material used to make heroin.

The plan went into effect Monday, with the government of interim Prime 
Minister Hamid Karzai offering poor farmers about $500 an acre to destroy 
their poppies or allow tractors to churn up the fields.

But farmers in southern Helmand province say they need several times that 
amount to cover their cultivation expenses since late last year, when the 
Taliban who successfully enforced a poppy ban were ousted by a U.S.-led 
military campaign.

Since Friday, at least nine poppy farmers and one government official have 
died in three separate confrontations linked to the state eradication plan, 
according to Afghan officials.

In Lashkar Gah, the dusty capital of Helmand, farmer Abdul Hakim lay in a 
hospital bed with a bullet wound in his chest.

Security forces shot him during a protest Sunday by poppy-growers in the 
district of Kajaki, north of the provincial capital.

"People have spent so much money on their crops.

They're tired, they work hard.

And now the government is trying to eradicate their crops," the 34- 
year-old Hakim said.

Eight farmers died, according to local officials.

"Death to America," Hakim quoted the protesters as shouting.

He said they accused the United States of pressuring the Afghan government 
to institute the poppy ban.

The UN and foreign governments are urging the Afghan government to wipe out 
the poppies, source of much of the heroin available in Europe.

American addicts get most of their heroin from Colombia and Mexico.

The bright flowers of many had fallen away, a sign that harvest time was 

Many bulbs were already scarred by the small, metal-edged implements that 
farmers use to scratch the surface of the bulb.

Agha, the village chief, displayed a metal plate of harvested opium, a 
brown, gooey mound resembling molasses, with a pungent odor.

He said he planned to sell it to a dealer in Lashkar Gah, eight miles to 
the north.

Couriers then buy the opium and ferry it across the desert on camels or in 
pickup trucks, south into Pakistan or west into Iran.

Some of it is set aside for local drug abusers, while the rest is processed 
into heroin and shipped to Europe.

There are well over 100,000 acres of poppy in Afghanistan, according to a 
preliminary U.N. assessment, indicating the challenge of enforcing a ban on 
the crop in a country ravaged by more than two decades of war.

On Tuesday, an untouched poppy field lay just five minutes' drive from a 
dirt airstrip in Lashkar Gah where British soldiers waited for a planeload 
of supplies.

But the soldiers' main mission was to scout around for Taliban or al- Qaida 
remnants, and they were not involved in the poppy eradication program.

The Taliban banned the growing of poppies in 2000, but the downfall of the 
Islamic militia amid a US bombing campaign prompted farmers, who say they 
don't earn enough from legal crops such as wheat, to quickly replant poppy 

In an interview in his office, Sher Mohammed, the governor of Helmand, said 
tractors protected by armed guards started destroying poppies on Tuesday.
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MAP posted-by: Larry Stevens