HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Attempt To Eradicate Afghan Opium Fails
Pubdate: Wed, 02 Mar 2005
Source: Guardian, The (UK)
Copyright: 2005 Guardian Newspapers Limited
Author: Alan Travis, Home Affairs Editor


Afghanistan is on the verge of becoming a "narcotic state" with its biggest 
annual crop of opium since the overthrow of the Taliban, the United Nations 
drug control board warns today.

The International Narcotics Control Board reports that the opium crop in 
Afghanistan - which is the source of more than 90% of the heroin sold on 
Britain's streets - reached a bumper 4,200 tonnes, up 800 tonnes on the 
previous year.

The rise is a blow to Tony Blair who told the Labour party conference in 
2000 that the war against the Taliban was an opportunity to eradicate the 
poppy harvest which is the source of three-quarters of all the world's heroin.

The INCB report says that Britain has the highest heroin seizure rate in 
Europe and the third highest number of heroin addicts.

The publication of the UN report also coincides with Home Office figures 
showing that the cocaine and crack culture is reaching record levels in 
England and Wales. The figures show the number of class A drug offences, 
including those involving heroin and cocaine, rose by 5% to 35,610 in 2003.

Hamid Ghodse, the INCB's president, said the British-led attempt to 
persuade Afghan farmers to grow other cash crops had failed. In 2003 
farmers grew 3,600 tonnes of opium poppies in 17 out of the 28 districts of 
Afghanistan. Now it has spread to all 28 districts, with the area under 
cultivation increasing last year from 80,000 hectares (200,000 acres) to 
130,000 hectares. The INCB said this compared with only 165 tonnes grown 
during the brutally enforced ban by the Taliban on opium production.

"The Afghanistan government needs to do something very serious, very 
quickly," said Professor Ghodse. "If it is not going to be a narcotics 
state, which is a risk, then Afghanistan needs to do very urgent action in 
eradication and alternative development."

Although opium prices fell considerably between 2003 and 2004 they remain 
above $100 (52) a kg - far higher than any other cash crop - and a crucial 
source of finance for the private armies of the drug warlords in Afghanistan.

The crop eradication programme is supported by a British-led international 
consortium, and tries to persuade farmers to grow alternative crops through 
negotiation. But it is now believed to be under pressure from the American 
administration which wants to adopt a forced crop eradication programme 
similar to that seen in Colombia in the last five years.

The UN report also warns of an alarming spread in HIV/Aids among injecting 
drug users in eastern Europe, Russia and central Europe with an estimated 4 
million people now believed to be infected.

Britain's former deputy drug tsar Mike Trace said yesterday there would be 
an alarming US-led attempt next week at the UN's annual commission on 
narcotic drugs meeting in Vienna to rule out the use of needle exchange and 
other programmes to deal with the growing epidemic.

Needle exchange schemes have been used in Britain since the 1980s to ensure 
one of the lowest rates of HIV infection among heroin injectors in Europe. 
Mr Trace, now a spokesman for the International Drug Policy Consortium, 
said governments that provided practical help, such as free access to clean 
syringes, could achieve significant reductions in the level of HIV infections.

But he said the US was consciously trying to tie aid to "moral lines in the 
sand" and would not endorse needle exchanges or heroin substitution programmes.

Britain and the rest of the EU are expected to criticise the move in Vienna 
next week but a vote to withdraw support from needle exchange programmes 
would send a damaging signal to the governments of the former Soviet Union.
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