HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Bid To Wipe Out Afghan Opium Failed, Says UN
Pubdate: Sat, 17 Nov 2007
Source: Independent  (UK)
Copyright: 2007 Independent Newspapers (UK) Ltd.
Author: Colin Brown, Deputy Political Editor


The head of the UN's anti-narcotics unit has called on Nato forces to
crack down on heroin production in Afghanistan -- a policy which
contradicts proposals by the Brown government.

Gordon Brown will propose paying farmers more than they earn from
their poppy harvests in return for ceasing to grow the crop when he
makes a statement to the Commons in the next few weeks on his strategy
for winning over Afghans and curbing the influence of the Taliban.

Thus far the British campaign to destroy poppy production has been an
abject failure, according to the annual report of the UN Office on
Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The biggest growth area is in Helmand
province, a Taliban stronghold, where British forces are fighting
daily battles.

British and allied forces are looking at ways of targeting the heroin
dealers by destroying drug factories inside Afghanistan. However,
British ministers are keen to avoid alienating the farmers who are
making a living out of the poppy crop.

That has caused tensions with the US administration, which has been
pressing Britain to support aerial spraying to destroy the crop. But
aerial spraying is opposed by Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai and
a senior Downing Street official made it clear yesterday that Mr Brown
will call for a more sympathetic approach to the farmers. "We have to
work closely with the communities involved," he said.

Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the UNODC, gave new figures
showing Afghanistan's export of drugs to the West was fuelling the
insurgency in Afghanistan. Releasing the final draft of its 2007
Afghan opium survey, the UNODC chief said poppy growth increased 17
per cent to 193,000 hectares and the growth in heroin production leapt
a third to 8,200 tonnes.

The report shows that Afghanistan now accounts for 93 per cent of
world opium production and is the biggest narcotics producer since
19th-century China. Helmand produces about half of the national output
of heroin. Farmers gained around $1bn (UKP 500m) from the total income
from the heroin trade, estimated at $4bn, while district officials
took a percentage through a levy on the crops. The rest was shared
among insurgents, warlords and drugs traffickers, it said.

The wholesale price of a gram of heroin grew with every border
crossed, it noted, rising from $2.50 in Afghanistan itself to $3.50 in
Pakistan and Iran, $8 in Turkey, $22 in Germany, $30 in Britain and
$33 in Russia.

"The potential windfall for criminals, insurgents and terrorists is
staggering and runs into the hundreds of millions of dollars," Mr Costa said.

"Since drugs are funding the insurgency, Nato has a self-interest in
supporting Afghan forces in destroying drugs labs, markets and
convoys. Destroy the drug trade and you cut off the Taliban's main
funding source."

Lord Malloch-Brown, the Foreign Office minister, told peers recently
that the Department for International Development was preparing plans
to provide long-term payments to farmers for stopping poppy production
and growing alternative crops.

However, a British charity, the Senlis Council, is winning support
from MPs for an alternative plan to buy up the annual poppy harvest
for morphine, which is in short supply.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Derek